Why I Write
In a 1946 essay, George Orwell proposes that every writer possesses four primary motivations, to some degree or another, influenced by the atmosphere of the time they belong to. These immutable qualities are 1) sheer egotism, 2) aesthetic enthusiasm, 3) historical impulse and 4) political purpose.
When it comes to blogging in the 21st century, ego firmly maintains the top spot. This is not a criticism of my fellow bloggers but a frank admission that I write, like them, for an imaginary audience other than myself. If we did not, after all, we would write private diaries, kept out of the reach of friends, let alone strangers.
Why is this egotistical? When you write for someone else, you dare to make a claim on their time and attention. Putting out a weekly blog post, I am aspiring to borrow 5-10 minutes of your busy week, without any means of giving it back.
It is unsettling to admit this so plainly, to myself as much as to you. Yet I blog anyway in the hope that I might write something worth reading, if not today, then maybe next week. If I fall short of this goal, I can trust you to leave, which in a roundabout way takes the pressure off.
On the one hand, I don’t believe bloggers are any more egotistical than the generations of writers before us. The difference is simply one of increased access and distribution. The internet has turned the world, its nieces and nephews, into writers and self-publishers in a way that is wholly unprecedented.
Smart-phone wielding children have greater access now to an audience from their bedrooms than almost any of history’s finest writers. With this kind of power at our fingertips, who could blame us for wanting to have our say and make a name for ourselves?
On the other hand, I have a suspicion that the 21st-century ego is a new breed altogether, characterised by anxiety, not arrogance, forged in the realm of social media and in the pursuit of what I’ll call “micro-fame”.
On social media and blogging platforms, we construct an image and a voice of our choosing and present it to others. Our profiles and opinions are highly personal, not necessarily because they are authentic, but because they represent how we desire to be perceived. Who we want to be is perhaps the truest form of ourselves and the act of revealing that renders us truly vulnerable.
The ego of a digital writer, whether the author of a Facebook status, tweet or blog post, is always in danger of sustaining itself on “likes”, “favourites” and “comments”. Perhaps more than any generation before us, we openly seek external validation on a daily basis. We outsource our self-worth.
Writing To Print Money
To highlight the role of sheer egotism is not to completely overlook the persisting existence today of the other three drives to write that Orwell discusses. Different writing formats and publishing channels reflect contrasting motivations.
One might be more likely to write for aesthetic enthusiasm’s sake on a craft-orientated platform like Medium, and share their opinions with more political purpose on slogan-friendly Twitter or amidst the battleground of Reddit.
A quick glance at the posts left on blogging Facebook groups reveals another, perhaps timeless, but strongly contemporary urge – the desire to write for money.
The number of bloggers who start researching how to monetise their blog before even hitting publish for the first time is truly astounding. Throughout history, writing was a full-time occupation of only the very wealthy. Not even the bestselling authors could rely on it as a steady source of income. With exceptions, very few well-known writers wrote to get rich. There were (and still are) far easier ways.
This has certainly changed since the dawn of the internet and, more recently, the advent of self-publishing. Today, it is entirely possible to blog purely for a financial incentive, write very badly, and make a great deal of money through effective marketing.
This reality has created a new pedigree of writers. And who can say that these individuals – whether bloggers, ebook authors or New York Times best-sellers – are any less worthy of their title than the old-school aesthetes or historians?
Why I Blog (A Reminder To Myself)
Now I have sufficiently procrastinated by contemplating the reasons why others might write, it is time for me to finally address what I sat down to record.
You might have noticed that my blogging schedule has slacked recently following a lack of motivation and commitment on my part. This post was intended as a reminder to myself of why I started this project in the first place and why I must see it through to the end.
While my ego and inner aesthete likely played a subconscious factor, my decision to start blogging again after years away (and do it so purposefully as I am at QuiteFrankLee.com) was highly intentional. I blog because I am a quitter – I always have been – and this project is my self-assigned test.
I am the kind of person who runs headfirst into things with all the passion and intention in the world, only to get distracted before ever seeing the results. If there is one thing that will hold me back from future success, I believe this short-attention-span is it.
For this reason, I wanted to set myself a challenge, something manageable but labour-intensive, that would last a daunting period of time. It was designed as a test of my will-power and persistence. The fun, inspired and easy to write posts are not what this is all about. This project is about the gruelling posts, those that I have to fight with, forcing myself to type away into my evenings when I would much rather be doing anything else.
Posts like this one that I have sat down 4 times to write.
If I can stick to blogging for the course of one year, I prove to myself that I can go the distance on projects. Knowing this will give me confidence and resilience pursuing larger, more ambitious schemes in the future.
There are side-benefits to me blogging as well. A key one is addressing my perfectionism which I often find to be the antagonist of my productivity. The nature of setting myself a regular publishing schedule means that I won’t always be happy with my output. Forcing myself to accept this and allow myself to miss my own standard, from time to time, is a positive habit to form now.
After all, it is better to share something that is flawed than nothing at all.
I’m going to wrap this post up with a very poignant quote from Fahrenheit 451 author, Ray Bradbury, who shared a similar writing philosophy to me, and by the sounds of it, a similar writing challenge:
“If you can write one short story a week — it doesn’t matter what the quality is to start — but at least you’re practicing and at the end of the year you have 52 short stories and I defy you to write 52 bad ones. It can’t be done.”
If nothing else comes out of my blogging project, I will have 52 posts to show for my effort. In a batch of this size, I’d like to think that at least 5 might be worth reading, but maybe, just maybe, one might lead to something more.