Why I Write was George Orwell’s essay answering that perennial question asked of most authors and novelists.
Orwell was a 5-year-old when he first thought of becoming a writer. It was an idea he clung to throughout his childhood—writing stories in his head, rather on paper, imitating the styles of his favorite authors. Then, between the ages of seveteen and 25, Orwell attempted to abandon his vocation.
He joined the Imperial Indian Police. He affected a philistinism. Denounced literature, and literary magazines—in particular the Adelphi, which he considered ‘scurrilous,’ and used for target practice. Ironically, it was the Adelphi that later gave Orwell his first encouragement as a writer, publishing some of his early essays under his name Eric Blair.
It was only on his return to England that Orwell started writing in earnest. He apprenticed himself, writing every day, developing a style, and submitting articles to magazines.
Writing, he discovered, was something he had to do.
Most authors would say the same: writing is something they have to do.
It’s the having to do it that starts them off. But it’s the keeping to it that is the difficult part.
I once asked the playwright Peter McDougall, ‘How do you write?’ ‘You write about what you know,’ he replied. I told him I had been to half-a-dozen funerals before I was twelve. ‘There you go—that’s what you should write about.’
But I was scared, because it meant writing about how I felt, how I thought. It meant revealing something about myself that I didn’t necessarily want to share. And that’s a major hurdle for writers starting out—having the nerve to put down on paper their true thoughts and feelings.
The author Max Frisch once wrote, “a writer only betrays himself.” Which is true, for a writer must be honest enough to tell the truth no matter how painful. And that was something Orwell knew.
In this short selection of interviews conducted by Charlie Rose, authors Martin Amis, Zadie Smith, Malcolm Gladwell, Joan Didion, Jonathan Franzen and Fran Lebowitz give their answers to the question ‘How do you write?’ They also answer that other favorite, ‘Where do ideas come from?’ and explain how best to write successfully.