“Setting words written down is the tactic of a secret bully,” and other selections from Why I Write

The question of what propels creators, especially great creators, could be the subject of eternal fascination and curiosity that is cultural. In “Why I Write,” originally published into the New York Times Book Review on December 5, 1976 and discovered within the Writer on Her Work, Volume 1 (public library), Joan Didion—whose indelible insight on self-respect is a must-read for all—peels the curtain on one of the most celebrated and distinctive voices of American fiction and literary journalism to show what it really is which has had compelled her to spend half a century putting pen to paper.

Needless to say I stole the title because of this talk, from George Orwell. One reason I stole it had been I write that I like the sound of the words: Why. There you have got three short unambiguous words that share an audio, as well as the sound they share is this: I I I In many ways writing could be the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying tune in to me, view it my way, replace your mind. It really is an aggressive, even a hostile act. You can easily disguise its qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions —with the whole manner of intimating in the place of claiming, of alluding rather than stating—but there is no getting around the fact that setting words in some recoverable format may be the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition associated with the writer’s sensibility from the reader’s most space that is private.

She goes on to attest towards the importance that is character-forming of the questions and trusting that even the meaningless moments will add up to an individual’s becoming:

I had trouble graduating from Berkeley, not because of this inability to cope with ideas—I was majoring in English, and I could locate the house-and-garden imagery into the Portrait of a Lady along with the person that is next ‘imagery’ being by definition the kind of specific that got my attention—but mainly because I experienced neglected to take a course in Milton. (more…)