Ada’s Place
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Ada’s Place

The Four Great Motives for Writing by George Orwell

Spoiler: You won’t find money on this list.

Photo of Eric Arthur Blair (who went by the pen name George Orwell). Photo Credit: Public Domain

In 1946, a collection of writers released an article in the London quarterly journal The Gangrel, which included an essay by George Orwell, explaining why he writes.

1/ Egoism.

Orwell’s official BNUJ press card. Photo is public domain.

Since this segment is about the ego, I wish to share a personal story with you.

A press badge is more powerful than celebrity status.

Between 2001 and 2002, I worked as the Senior Editor for ieMagazine. On my first day the owner of the publication, Hal Halpin, gave me a tour of his offices in Wilton, Connecticut. He wished to meet all new employees, explain his vision, and discuss his projections with the interactive entertainment industry. Hal is a brilliant man who taught me so much about the business behind videogames.

On any given day, editors could expect to receive multiple packages containing first playables — pre-build videogames that editors would take into the gaming room and play all the way to the end. It was awesome.

But that’s not all.

Once a week, I would get invited to either New York, Las Vegas, or Los Angeles, all expenses paid, to attend press junkets. Most of the editors at ieMag would turn down the offer, as it was difficult to party and get work done at the same time. Deadlines were strict. I was fresh out of college so I loved it. I wrote fast. That made publishers happy, so their PR reps would call me up, fly me out, and spoil me with high-end meals, top-shelf alcohol, and an exclusive look at their newest AAA titles coming down the pike, expecting a glowing review in return. I was in heaven.

It didn’t matter that my salary was $27,000 a year. I got sent an Xbox Developer’s Kit by Edelman PR, months before the Xbox hit shelves. By the time it was released to the public I was familiar with the launch titles, having reviewed the lot, so I got called to meet Bill Gates at Toys R’ Us in Times Square. I went, met Gates, even got to play a quick match of multiplayer Halo while eager consumers looked on from the other side of the sliding glass doors. From where I was standing, press badge over my neck, there were bins stacked with launch titles, amongst shelves lined with Xbox consoles.

The Xbox was a behemoth. Gates lost hundreds on each console sold, as the hardware was comparable to a PC. Super expensive at the time, as no one was doing this. Gates however, is a business man. He had a plan. Recover all losses through AAA games sales. That required incredible games with awesome reviews. He got them. Halo was a masterpiece. Everything down to the soundtrack to the cinematics and physics were never seen before. It blew everyone away.

Original Xbox with sleek S-type controller. It was heavy as hell. A PC in a box. Photo: Public Domain.

The ego-stroking benefits of being a journalist are many.

The Xbox launch party at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in 2001 featured a live performance by Blink 182. Played in front of 25 or so industry executives, and me, rocking out with a beer in hand. The Nintendo after party was a swanky affair, with a beautiful Japanese woman playing classic piano on a Steinway, while us editors smoked Cuban cigars with the Nintendo logo wrapped around it, to go along with our fresh mint julip Suntory cocktails.

I never made it to the Sony party, though I heard it was a bust.

Later on that year, Namco held a press junket for Ace Combat 4. They had editors flown out to Vegas, facing off against one another in simulated dogfights in actual stunt planes for which I pulled a barrel roll and a hammerhead before nearly passing out from the G-forces (a seasoned instructor was co-piloting so I made it through just fine). Several of the editors missed their barf bags and puked in the cockpit, which I heard with vivid detail over the intercom. It was priceless.

But I digress — Orwell said it best:

“Serious writers are less interested in money.”

Writing is about recalling the thrills of life. It’s about the joy of having a unique, one-of-a-kind experience that you can immortalize on the page. To cross off all items on your bucket list while you’re young, vibrant, and able. Which is every day of your life, as a writer.

The Xbox I had was translucent green, which lit up like a Christmas tree — and most of all, it played games that were pre-release builds that only a handful of editors around the world got a chance to play. The love of gaming and writing made this possible.

I had been a fan of videogames since the Atari 2600, and had a love for language since Texas Instruments’ Speak & Spell. The money I made from being a videogame journalist was the cherry on top.

The original Xbox Debug Kit. Photo courtesy of Fandom.com.

Orwell writes about how writers seek to enjoy the whole top crust of humanity. You have to fight for this, and take risks. You will fail. Though there are times after all your hard work, when you experience a win, and it’s most satisfying.

“There’s a desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc.” — George Orwell

2/ Aesthetic Enthusiasm.

Before writing, I was a musician. Music composition taught me how to write. The same theory applies: there’s an intro, verse, chorus, bridge, and outro to every single paragraph. Writing allows you to compose music continuously. As does poetry. And illustration. And sculpture. Any form of creative expression is in fact, song.

As composers, we tend to break the mold. It’s about reaching a resolution at the end. We must find resolution. Clarification of that which we are dreaming about in our minds. This often has to do with love. How could it not? Love leads to all victories in life, including the continuation of the human species. At first there is the idea of the perfect partner, and from that, comes clarity. We see the light, we wish to show the world what this light is illuminating. Aesthetics involve the appreciation of beauty. On top of it evoking a feeling of calm, after a period of excitement.

Writing is a way of making love. No wonder it’s highly addicting.

Orwell writes:

“There’s pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story.”

3/ Historical Impulse.

This is where Orwell fully shines. So much that his name evolved into a concept of its own — Orwellian.

He wrote 1984 in 1948, and hit the nail on the head with several elements — to where this offering is timeless, applicable to this day. Though some would argue Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is a better representation of humanity is in current state, no one can deny how doublethink is most prevalent in occidental society. We throw the word ‘gaslight’ around like it’s nothing nowadays. Technically this requires years of classical conditioning. Orwell spoke about the perils of cancel culture 75 years ago, and intended on preserving his insights, for the sake of human consciousness continuing well into the future:

“It’s the desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.”

4/ Political Purpose.

We’ve all heard Baron Lytton’s adage — the pen is mightier than the sword — and this rings most true when writing for political purpose. As we recall the phrases — ‘Four score and seven years ago…’ to ‘I have a dream…’ to ‘One small step for man, and one giant leap for mankind…’ — whether spontaneous or planned, these words at one point were written. Once spoken, humanity was forever changed.

Orwell explains:

“No book is genuinely free from political bias. This motive is to push the world in a certain direction.”

Whether you’re writing for the ego, or political reasons—creative expression changes the world. More than anything else. From mathematics to science to music and poetry — these symbols, when organized in a sequence that others can relate to, evoke a feeling that brings us to a point of resolution. It is this resolution that we crave. Through this, we as humans, evolve.

-W.V.Carleton

Photo by Oscar Agis.

William Vincent Carleton holds the world record for the most novels written in a year at 42, accomplished in 2021. The previous record was held by Barbara Cartland at 23, a record held since 1977.

All of William’s novels are composed on a mechanical typewriter. He channels his writing through a technique called “auto-type”. It involves the Tarot.

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