By Martha Nichols for Talking Writing
Two essays, same title: One by George Orwell in 1946, another by Joan Didion in 1976. For me, they represent two poles for nonfiction writers: stepping aside and letting the story tell itself (Orwell) vs. creating a point of view through which everything is filtered (Didion).
Didion was deliberately riffing on Orwell, who famously wrote in his essay, "Good prose is like a windowpane."
Didion's reply: "I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear."
The irony is that Orwell had an extremely strong—some would say caustic—point of view, and the good sense to realize he had a tough time stepping out of his own way. Didion's ice-cool persona is a turn-off for some, who view her as the ice queen rather than a stewing cauldron of subjectivity. So which is it for the rest of us? How do we balance the need for factual accuracy with subjectivity?
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