Orwell was a genius, obviously; I'm not. But he was also a writer who wrote for money, and I can raise my hand here safely. Like Orwell, I don't think of writing as a spiritual calling or some kind of autoerotic emotional purge. I write to make money - naturally, because I need to earn a living and I can do it with writing. But I make money specifically by writing rather than something else because writing is putting words together to communicate an idea or an emotion, and I like communicating that way. I write to communicate.
I write to communicate ideas and emotions. That's my job and it's what I like to do. If I couldn't find a way to make money at it, but a reader told me happily, "*Ah - now I get it!" I'd be okay with that. Not thrilled, because I like to pay my bills, but I'd keep plugging away. And if a reader said, "I disagree" or "I hate your characters," I'd be okay with that, too, because he or she got what I was writing - they just didn't agree or like it.
But if all I heard was, "Uh - what's your point again?" and "That was kinda a boring story" then I'd be depressed for a month. Even if I made good money at it.
I write to say something and have someone else get it. Whether it's "paperclips are really interesting" or "Foucault was a postmodernist for the Internet Age" or a nice story about a boy and a girl doesn't matter all that much to me. Just that my target reader understands and, better yet, is moved by something I wrote.
And that's why I read, too. If somebody writes something that makes me nod meaningfully or affects my emotions, I'm impressed. And if I like the way I feel when I read that stuff, I'm happy to surrender myself as reader to the power of the writing. Some authors of such feel-good books are Helen Cresswell, British children's writer of the hilarious Bagthorpe Saga, Diana Wynne Jones, another British children's fantasy writer, Connie Willis, author of the To Say Nothing of the Dog, and Barry Hughart. Those are fiction authors. But this applies to nonfiction, too.
Why this post about why I write? Because I see too many writers - in articles about authorship and in freelancer forums - discussing writing as though it were an a priori virtue, writers who say that if the reader doesn't get it, it's too bad for the reader - the piece wasn't written for the reader, anyway, but for the author's expressive urges, or whatever. Well, okay. It's a free world. But I think they're not doing justice to their readers. Writers should provide a service to their readers, or at least make an effort to truly communicate. Not everyone will get it or be delighted. But some should. Some should.
I don't see writing as a virtue - or at least, not any greater a virtue than any other profession. Writing in itself isn't anything noble. Writing isn't about the act of writing - or if it is, that's not writing in my book. That's keeping a diary. Writing is fashioning provocative ideas for someone else. Entertaining readers. Informing readers clearly. Doing the hard work so readers don't have to...doing the creating, organizing, and hard thinking so readers can surrender to you, the writer, for direction when they're looking for guidance...or simply a fun ride.