If Writing Is Selfish, Then I Am Scrooge

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I’m sure by now most writers have heard the worn-thin saying that anyone who puts pen to paper is a selfish creature. It was George Orwell who said:

All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.

I suppose that when I first read Orwell’s “Why I Write,” I was reluctant to attach myself to any of those harsh adjectives. I wasn’t vain. I certainly wasn’t selfish. Heck, I was the neurotic opposite of lazy. Writing wasn’t a struggle; it was a pleasure. I was, as far as I knew, devoid of demons.

When I think back on it, when I first absorbed Orwell’s long-echoed advice (or rather, observations), I wasn’t doing much writing myself. I said I was a writer, and I loved writing — but I hadn’t yet attached myself to a project I was passionate about or truly committed my free time to improving my craft. When I started to write more and actually develop characters and worlds and plot lines that I cared about, that quote meant something completely different to me.

Writing was a selfish act, I realized. I was selfish. I was the Scrooge of my own, blocked-off world, a world that I thought worth investing precious time into.

When we write, we pour our hearts into something that, at first, only exists to us. By simply believing that what we write matters, we indulge in egotism. When we write for ourselves, we are self-indulgent. When we write for others, we are vain. When we are vain, we run the risk of creating self-inserts — and after all, aren’t self-inserts selfish?

At first, it was an unsettling notion.

But then I thought about what the word “selfish” actually meant, and it didn’t seem so callous and narrow-minded. Merriam-Webster defines it as

concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself :  seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others.

Isn’t it a good thing to care about yourself? Isn’t seeking to improve your mind and pursue your passions what you should always be doing? Writing “without regard for others” might seem harsh, but really, all it means is to do what you want without worrying about what others think. Write the story that you want to write, not the one that you think will sell or be critically acclaimed.

I, for one, am proud to be a Scrooge if it means doing what I love unapologetically. 

 © 2016 Stellular Scribe
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