Writing is hard. Why do it?

Find inspiration in George Orwell's "Why I Write" - and then discover your own answer.
By Whitney Faber | Published: September 23, 2013


word pileNo one ever said writing was easy.

In fact, good writing can be downright laborious. I know. I’ve spent hours mulling over the perfect ending to a paragraph, the right adjective to describe a hand movement or the easiest flow for an important sentence.

Writing difficult pieces begs the question: Why do it?

In a writing club in college, the first assignment was to pen 500 words explaining just that: why we write. At the time, the question seemed arbitrary. Having already written a mountain of words because, well, I was assigned to, it seemed I wrote because I did. But when I sat down to explore the real reasons, of course there was more to it.

The writing assignment was inspired by George Orwell’s essay “Why I Write.” Orwell bears all as he describes his lonely childhood, where he found comfort in creating stories, his “aesthetic enthusiasm,” in which he simply admires words, and his political motivations, for which he desires to expand people’s thoughts. And those are just the first reasons.

My story isn’t as grand as Orwell’s. I was in the fifth grade when I realized writing would always be a part of my life. My teacher spoke to me after passing out our first real research report — mine was on harp seals — and told me that I should keep writing, that if I worked at it, I might be good at it someday. I’m still working at it, and I’ve since found more reasons to keep laboring.

In my 500-word essay, I talked about the joy of talking to people and telling their stories. I still look back at it from time to time, if for no other reason than to remind me why I keep working.

I encourage every writer to take the time to write a few paragraphs about why he or she writes. The answer may be simple. It may have changed over time. You may not even know why you write. But just seeing the reasons on paper can sometimes be the motivator to write that first – or last – difficult paragraph.

  • Hal Partenheimer

    Hi Whitney – Very good thought on what can often be overlooked – keeping the reason we do what we do in front of us. Often in order to do something well we need to return to basic fundamentals – even if it’s, or especially with, a step back for perspective. I am just beginning my career as a writer and your piece has encouraged me to pen the statement that will undoubtedly help ease my way forward.

  • Cardinal Charles Ng

    I write to find out whether I can write well. After writing more words than I can count, I discover that I write badly. The amazing thing is I still want to write.

    • Emma

      We’re our worst critics. If your comment is any indication, I have a feeling you write better than you think. Writers continue to write even after motivation has left their body.

  • Alicia

    I once went on a camping trip and purposely left all writing material at home. I wanted to clear my mind and step away from the process and practice. Sitting on the shoreline near the campsite, I found myself looking at buoys bobbing in the water and couldn’t stop myself from forming first a metaphor and then a story. Why write? Because I can’t not write. It’s hard wired into my brain. Like Hal says, getting back to the fundamentals can shore up (pun intended) your commitment.

  • http://daniel-bachmann.com/ Daniel Bachmann

    This is an excellent blog article and very inspiring! Thank you for writing it while I believe writting helps us to find our own authentic voice and purpose.