To add on to today’s earlier blog post, I just discovered George Orwell’s “Why I Write,” an essay he wrote on motivations regarding the craft. Thank you Brain Pickings.
“Orwell begins with some details about his less than idyllic childhood — complete with absentee father, school mockery and bullying, and a profound sense of loneliness — and traces how those experiences steered him towards writing, proposing that such early micro-traumas are essential for any writer’s drive.” We have more than I expected in common, Orwell.
I think many people turn to writing out of loneliness, and I know Isabel Allende said that the writer writes because they start as an outcast. Orwell goes on to describe how the writer holds onto this mood but must move past it without getting stuck in it. Lose it completely and you lose writing, though. He lists four causes for writing–A) sheer egoism (note that Orwell does not consider this an altogether bad trait), B) aesthetic enthusiasm (what I’m learning more about), C) historical impulse (pursuit of truth and desire to share it), and D) political purpose. I completely agree with that last one, and Orwell emphasizes it as well.
“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.”
I think that fantasy and science fiction are inherently political genres, and all writing is, really. The act of writing is to simply say, “I deserve to speak and be heard,” which depending on the speaker can be pretty damn revolutionary. Fairy tales represent archetypes and reflect paradigms–subvert the dominant paradigm by changing the story, and what you create is inherently radical, if in a coded sort of a way. (See: Magical Realism). The best science fiction is full of political warnings and cultural critiques. Heinlein asks us if we should get to vote in a country without being willing to fight for it. Bujold makes us ask what is really important in a society by contrasting Beta Colony with Barrayar. I’ve just started working on my winter break children’s book (I’m optimistic, alright?), and hopefully I can include that aspect of the revolutionary in my writing. First of all, though, I need to work on understanding the story I’m playing with–Little Red Riding Hood, here I come.