“It Tells You.”

“You don’t tell it. It tells you.”  I included these two sentences in my reply to a comment on last Wednesday’s post, Goal-Gazing. The discussion was around writing and what it evokes in us, from the slough of despond to joy and every emotion in-between. All agreed writing is worth it.

Joan Didion, nndb.com image

Hours beyond the blog and out of the electronic ether entirely, the sentences return to me, just a tad tenacious. They belong to Joan Didion and are from her 1976 “Why I Write” essay.

“It tells you.”
“You don’t tell it.

I’m used to sorting and shuffling through my mind for “lines I like” but of late, I find my recollection is not always the original order of occurrence. I consult my well-used copy of William Smart’s Eight Modern Essayists, fifth edition, a resident of my writer’s bag until the end of the 20thcentury, now a bookshelf retiree to ease its spine.

Virginia Woolf, Wikipedia image

I open the book to a heavily underlined passage from Virginia Woolf’s “Professions for Women,” her 1931 speech to The Women’s Service League:

“…for it is a very strange thing that people will give you a motor car if you will tell them a story. It is still a stranger thing that there is nothing so delightful in the world as telling stories…” (Page 12).

I consider finding the part about the Persian cat but I turn pages instead, remembering I may forget what I started. Didion’s one-line paragraphs return, as if on cue, but with the additional phrase of nota bene (note well), and I remember that the phrase precedes the paragraphs. 

“It tells you.
“You don’t tell it.”

At that point, I reach page 241 and read: “the arrangement of the words matters…[it] tells you what is going on in the picture.” I have believed this all my writing life—still do—moreover, Didion’s two, one-line paragraphs were a mantra for me—still are–nota bene to self.

Rhythm of ROW80 Sunday Scheduling:

  • Alternating short fiction, novel, and blog posts as daily writing
  • Doing the Tao with Dyer
  • Nepo morning meditation continues

6 thoughts on ““It Tells You.”

  1. I call it being in the stream. If I am in the stream the writing flows through me like water, with no effort. If I am disconnected it is disjointed and clearly not flowing. That is why I dance. When I dance I can connect back in to the stream, which I believe is our higher consciousness and/or the source of creation our Higher Power/God. This has clearly shown me that they are not really my words but words that want to be spoken/written through me. But oh how I love to write those words, words that flow onto the page and later you look at them and think, “I wrote that.” and feel blessed to be one of the tools for this wonderful world of writing.

    Thank you for all that you do!



    1. Right there with you about our consciousness, higher power, God. The flowing and not flowing of the stream–the paradoxical unity of the Tao–is divine, the stream of us, just as you say.

      Hope to see you here often.


    1. I love the pictures of these two women, as they seem similar in age, but who knows? It was a fun look back at a very productive writing time in my life. Glad to see you here, Lizzie!


  2. How very apt, as writers/creative types our muse does a lot of talking -telling would be a better word; we only take elements of what feel is usable; but it certainly comes from somewhere else. What a lovely piece of writing; elusive in parts but also engaging. 🙂

    Your goals are looking good too -keep it up, you are doing great! 😀


    1. This one was hard to write but fun so thank you. The arrangement of sentences, whether as single paragraphs or not, is so important. Frankly, I was aghast that I had reversed the order of the sentences but was absolutely intrigued by the difference in the meaning. Truly, I appreciate your words.
      Thanks for the encouragement regarding my goals. I am pleased that I am writing every day and actually keeping/publishing around 250 words a day.


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