The end(s) of writing
Five minutes ago I sent in the final corrected proofs of my new book, A FAN’S LIFE: THE AGONY OF VICTORY AND THE THRILL OF DEFEAT, which will be published in August. I’m sitting alone in my office in an almost completely empty building, and I wanted to share the moment with somebody, and it turns out that somebody is you.
This is the third real book I’ve written, and each time I’ve finished I’ve been struck by the accuracy of Orwell’s words on the subject of book writing:
Looking back through the last page or two, I see that 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. Writing a book 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 or understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention.
Yet finishing a book in 2022 makes me feel the force of another passage in that essay with much more force than ever before:
What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art. My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art’. I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an aesthetic experience. Anyone who cares to examine my work will see that even when it is downright propaganda it contains much that a full-time politician would consider irrelevant. I am not able, and do not want, completely to abandon the world view that I acquired in childhood. So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information. It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself. The job is to reconcile my ingrained likes and dislikes with the essentially public, non-individual activities that this age forces on all of us.
Those words were written a few months after the end of World War II.
I will enjoy a drink tonight in any case.