When I was in journalism school, one of my professors gave my classmates and me
a thick binder containing works by some of the greatest writers of the last
century. It was a veritable motley crew of genius – including writings by Mark
Twain, Hunter Thompson, Truman Capote, Gay Talese, Nellie Bly, Norman Mailer,
Tom Wolfe, John Irving, Franz Kafka, and several other luminaries (living, and
of course, dead) whom I would pay serious cash to have a beer with.
all the thought-provoking gems of prose that I went through in that binder, one
piece in particular caught my attention far more than the others, which is
saying something. It was a short, simple essay, published in 1946 by George
Orwell, entitled “Why I Write.”
I still remember devouring each word,
knowing that Orwell – a true literary giant if there ever was one – was
essentially allowing people the rare opportunity to glimpse a very private side
of him that was mostly inaccessible through his fiction alone.
my mind, it was as if a curtain was being raised exposing The Wizard of Oz
IN THE piece, Orwell goes to great pains to dispel any myths
that he writes purely for some greater purpose – or even because he loves to
write. Instead, he makes it clear that for him, writing is the result of a very
personal need, derived largely by insecurity and personal demons.
Orwell’s words: “Putting aside the need to earn a living, I think there are four
great motives for writing, at any rate for writing prose. They exist in
different degrees in every writer, and in any one writer the proportions will
vary from time to time, according to the atmosphere in which he is living. They
(1) Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be
remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in
(2) Aesthetic enthusiasm.
Perception of beauty in the external
world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement…
. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and
store them up for the use of posterity…
(4) Political purpose.
Desire to push
the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of
society that they should strive after…”
He concludes his essay by stating:
writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives
there lies a mystery. Writing… 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
Pretty dark stuff, no? But he’s entirely
INDEED, HAVING studied with and worked with my fair share of
writers over the years, there’s no question that the brunt of them are driven by
ego (often misguided), the beauty of words (a respectable cause), political
propaganda (occasionally downright frightening), and something that, to the
naked eye, would appear to be little more than masochism – or, as Orwell puts
It is the latter point that is the true crux of the
question of why I, and most people, write.
After all, the vast majority
of writers never make enough money to support themselves, or even have their
work see the light of day. In the case of Kafka – a definitively tortured genius
– his painstaking writing wasn’t even recognized until after he died.
makes you wonder why anyone would be mad enough to pursue a craft that you have
better odds of getting struck by lightning – or getting a date with Natalie
Portman – than succeeding in.
To be sure, I have had more than my share
of frightening moments grappling with the uncertainty of my chosen vocation –
feeling like I was pushing a petulant elephant up an infinite, narrow, winding
staircase with broken steps, while wearing roller-blades, no helmet, with a
bunch of angry (inbreeding) villagers with pitchforks and torches chasing me
And that’s just on a professional level.
In terms of
my personal life, I still have countless, painfully vivid memories of trying to
impress various pretty women at whatever bar I was in throughout my 20s that I
was a “writer,” and then wanting to curl up into the fetal position and die a
quick, painless death when they invariably asked me where I have been
Then, of course, there’s the self-doubt that haunts all
writers, to varying degrees, the way recurring dreams of being naked in public
HOWEVER, THERE are a select few writers who possess a
degree of natural talent, intellectual curiosity and – most importantly – a
refusal to give up no matter what
These brave souls slog through a
seemingly never-ending quagmire of mind-numbing obstacles with the mere hope to
be given the privilege of expressing themselves to discriminating
I, very humbly, am blessed to be among their numbers.
it didn’t come easy – or almost at all, for that matter – which begs the
question: Why didn’t I just go to law school or get an MBA, like every other
marginally intelligent Jewish boy? The answer is simple, and the reason I’m
writing this essay.
I THINK it’s important for you, as readers, to
understand why it is that I (or anyone else, for that matter) writes to you in
these relatively rarefied pages.
Now, while I certainly agree with the
bulk of what Orwell believes drives writers, for me, at the end of the day, I
write for two reasons:
(1) Because it’s one of the few things I’m any good
(2) Because words, in the right arrangement, are the most powerful
weapons man has ever known to affect constructive change of any kind – and I’m
acutely aware of this fact.
Indeed, I have long believed that the pen is
mightier than the sword – so much so, in fact, that I have the image of a
fountain pen breaking a sword in half emblazoned on my right shoulder. Pretty
intense guy, I am.
But tattoos aside, my faculty and fascination with
words – and what they are capable of – coupled with an inherent sense of empathy
and my life experience as a member of a family that was devastated for their
religious affiliation, have provided me with the fuel I needed to get to this
YOU SEE, the reason I endured years of self-flagellation, doubt,
fear, inadequacy, anxiety, profoundly lousy paychecks, and rejection from
countless pretty women who preferred men with competitive salaries, is because I
knew in my gut that if I could survive all these horrible feelings, there was a
good chance that I’d have something of substance to say.
mantra was always – and had to be – Friedrich Nietzsche’s chilling but accurate
axiom : “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.”
Truer words have
never been spoken, especially with respect to the Jewish people.
even more importantly than Darwinian theory, what drives me more than anything
else is the opportunity to connect with people like you. To partake in an
international meeting of the minds, based on respect, elevated thought and the
mere possibility of affecting greater understanding and tolerance in an
otherwise confused, intolerant world.
In short: To harness the profound
power of words for the greater good.
That inspires me to no
That is why I firstname.lastname@example.org