Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing, and Publishing ~

What Motivates Authors To Write ?


Are there disembodied spirits that give authors ideas?

Do the Muses guide the writer’s hand?

Is all that an excuse for a more rational process that’s so complex mere mortals fail in attempted descriptions?

Back in September of 2011 I wrote the post Why Do Humans Write? which contains a fascinating explanation by Gwenette WriterSinclair and includes some speculative questions about the evolutionary roots of writing

There are also over 30 Author Interviews here that have lots of insight into writers’ motives.

Maria Popova writes for The Atlantic and has, along with links to writing tips from Kurt Vonnegut, David Ogilvy, Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac, and John Steinbeck, shared Why I Write: George Orwell on an Author’s 4 Main Motives.

Orwell’s motives are:

Sheer egoism “Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc.”

Aesthetic enthusiasm “Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement.”

Historical impulse “Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.”

Political purpose “Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after.”

Popova includes more of Orwell’s explanations in the article and I need to excerpt the last one:

“Looking back through the last page or two, I see that I have made it appear as though my motives in writing were wholly public-spirited. I don’t want to leave that as the final impression. All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane. I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed. And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a POLITICAL purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.”

Do you agree with Orwell?

Do other motives move your writing?

Are you aware of other writers with quite different motives?

Are you the type of person who wonders where these motives come from?

Would you share your ideas about why writers write?
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8 responses to “What Motivates Authors To Write ?

  1. martinaseveckepohlen July 4, 2012 at 11:21 am

    I would redefine Orwell’s “historical impulse” as the need to explain the world to myself and to show other people what I discovered. This includes “political” stretched to mean human relationships, what they are, where certain ways of behaviour might lead to and what other options are available.

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    • Alexander M Zoltai July 4, 2012 at 11:22 am

      Thank you for your insight, Martina :-)

      Like this

  2. Barbara Blackcinder July 4, 2012 at 11:59 am

    Is Orwell being contrary or otherwise ‘political’? I can’t imagine how many ways I disagree with his statements. Instead, I put a quote from Ray Bradbury on my blog, “Writing should be an adventure” as my bit of motivation. Even hard work just changes the nature of the adventure.

    Like this

    • Alexander M Zoltai July 4, 2012 at 2:48 pm

      Barbara,

      I can’t necessarily agree completely with Orwell either but you’re proof that my purpose panned out–I stimulated a response :-)

      Like this

  3. Violet Ivy February 18, 2013 at 11:36 pm

    These are certainly SOME of the motivations. Has anyone read some of the rubbish on Amazon lately. It seems to be financially motivated only.
    Violet Ivy
    violet-ivy.com

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    • Alexander M Zoltai February 18, 2013 at 11:42 pm

      I agree, Violet.

      Like this

  4. The teller of tales January 7, 2014 at 12:25 am

    I can’t really remember right now who said this, but I read it . THIS IS MY WORK NOT MY DOOM…

    Like this

    • Alexander M Zoltai January 7, 2014 at 12:45 am

      Excellent Quote :-)

      Like this

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