15 Famous Authors on Why They Write

Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four author George Orwell’s 109th birthday just passed, and The Atlantic led us to an excerpt from the writer’s 1946 essay, Why I Write. The candid work reveals what Orwell believes are four explicit motives for writing. “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,” he mused. For Orwell, writers put pen to paper — or these days, fingers to keyboard — out of “sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, and political purpose.” The essay examines how these motives influenced his own work, then boldly concludes the following: “I have made it appear as though my motives in writing were wholly public-spirited. I don’t want to leave that as the final impression. All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery.”

We felt compelled to explore other reasons for writing as shared by famous authors. These honest and passionate declarations offer an intimate view into their processes, their life philosophies, and their humor. See if they inspire you, and then drop your personal favorites in the comments section below.

Gustave Flaubert

The Madame Bovary writer died penniless, but he was a painstakingly dedicated and detailed scribe who worked tirelessly even though his output never matched his peers. Flaubert’s famous line, “Writing is a dog’s life, but the only life worth living,” doesn’t mince words and mirrors his tenacious approach to the craft.