“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