George Orwell On His Own Writing

I think we should file this one under ‘B’ for Bitter old Bastard. George Orwell had this to say, about his own writing:

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.

 

I can’t say I agree with all of that, not by a long way. But it does provide some interesting food for thought. I came across the quote on Cat Sparks’ Facebook wall and I think Margo Lanagan summed it up best in her comment:

Second half is halfway sensible; first half—well, wasn’t HE a drama queen.

Yes. Yes, he really was. Writing a book really is hard work, and you often question your sanity in the process. But it’s bloody brilliant too. Nothing horrible about it. Of course, our real underlying prime motivators for writing are obscure. Most of us may never really know exactly why we do it, other than that we simply can’t not do it.

Anyway, as I said, an interesting quote and it’s given me pause for thought. If nothing else, there’s one line in there that’s absolute gold:

Good prose is like a windowpane.

Meditate on that one, Grasshopper.

 

This is a reprint from Alan Baxter‘s The Word.

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