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Why Write? Some Reflections

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Why write?

I have thought about this question for a long time.

In my research, I discovered that writing, compared to human existence and world history, is a recent development. The Sumerians in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia -present day Iraq- were the first to invent cuneiform and hieroglyphics systems of writing in 3,500 B.C.E. They used cuneiform for trade and communication purposes. The Sumerians also used it to keep accounts and documents. Scribes were trained in reading and writing. These scribes knew how to use catalogs, libraries, calendars, forms and tables.

With time, the usages of writing expanded to many other forms of human life. Today, writing is central to almost anything we do. Education, journalism, jobs, storytelling, to name only a few, use script in one or the other form for their work. The internet, for instance, relies on words. Without words, it is impossible to imagine its existence or the existence of many other activities which depend on the written word.

There is also a philosophical dimension to “why write.”  Besides work-related explanations, what are some other reasons for writing? Some write for acclaim. Others do so for joy and glory. Yet some others write for financial reasons. But it is not one or the other. All these rationales may inspire someone simultaneously to write, and in many cases they do. Some others have very unique, personal reasons for writing. James Salter says, “There comes a time when you realize that everything is a dream, and only those things preserved in writing have any possibility of being real.”

There are hundreds of such beautiful and moving thoughts about writing. Here are 23 fascinating quotes from the world’s famous authors about why they write or wrote.

George Orwell, the famous British author, outlines in his book Why I Write, the following four reasons for why he wrote. First, Orwell says, he writes for “sheer egoism,” which is the “desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death.” Second, for “aesthetic enthusiasm,” which is the “desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed.” Third, there is “historical impulse” involved in writing: This means the “desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.” Finally, there is a “Political purpose,” which is the “desire to push the world in a particular direction.”

Orwell, like none other, encapsulates it in the most profound and efficient manner. I have read it many times and have shared it with friends and colleagues. Inspired by Orwell’s ideas, I have come up with two of my own reasons for why I write. First, I think we write because there is the desire to stand for a principle or vision of life: In writing, we affirm our position on issues close to our heart. Second, the uniqueness of our individuality and history matters. By this I mean, as individuals we have the ability to see the world in a way that others may not, or can never. So, we must get down to write that unique story.

I would like to know your thoughts about why you write in the comments section.


Author: Aslam is a writing Lecturer and Ph.D. student of Global Affairs at Rutgers University. He can be reached at aslam.kakar@rutgers.edu or @aslam_Kakar



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