Joan Didion Quotes on Writing: The Complete Collection

joan didion quotes on writing
by CJ McDaniel // June 6 // 0 Comments

For writers, it’s already a struggle to create a name in their chosen field. Joan Didion, however, managed to find success in three areas of her profession. Her tripartite career involves reporting, fiction, and screenplay writing—all of which displayed her fearless and distinctive voice. She’s more than just an inspirational figure for writers and fans: she’s one of the most significant writers of her generation, a cultural icon, to be exact. Joan Didion’s talent in writing established her reputation, inspiring and giving encouragement to aspiring and professional writers through her quotes.

Born in Sacramento, California, on December 5, 1934, American novelist, essayist, and screenwriter Joan Didion grew up as a timid, bookish child. However, she eventually overcame her shyness through public speaking and acting. Meanwhile, Ernest Hemingway and Joseph Conrad profoundly influenced her during her teenage years. Didion’s university life at the University of California, Berkeley, fueled her passion for writing. Her early achievements include winning a spot as guest fiction editor for the Mademoiselle magazine in her junior year and an essay contest sponsored by Vogue magazine in her final year.

Didion’s best-known works include two groundbreaking essay collections entitled “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” and “The White Album”; and a novel named “Play It As It Lays.” Her writings displayed her lucid and revolutionary-in-its-time prose style, inspiring readers and writers not to shy away from their complicated emotions or stories. More than that, Joan Didion’s quotes on writing and other related aspects served as a pillar for many people for decades—establishing her relevance as a writer.

Joan Didion Quotes About Writing

Didion’s works were unique and remarkable. She started writing at a young age, practicing the incantatory style her mother presented to her. Ernest Hemingway also influenced her works, using his placement of words as the basis of her distinctive writing style. What made her novels and essays stand out amongst others was how she explored the disintegration of American morals and cultural chaos. She’s one of the best-known prose writers of our time, so the following Joan Didion’s quotes about writing are no doubt something you’ll find valuable over time.

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.

Joan Didion

Short stories demand a certain awareness of one’s own intentions, a certain narrowing of the focus.

Joan Didion

Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write.

Joan Didion

We tell ourselves stories in order to live.

Joan Didion

To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence, as definitely and inflexibly as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object photographed.

Joan Didion

Although I have felt compelled to write things down since I was five years old, I doubt that my daughter ever will, for she is a singularly blessed and accepting child, delighted with life exactly as life presents itself to her, unafraid to go to sleep and unafraid to wake up. Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.

Joan Didion

Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.

Joan Didion

I don’t know what I think until I write it down.

Joan Didion

I don’t write for catharsis; I have to write to understand.

Joan Didion

The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself. I suppose that it begins or does not begin in the cradle.

Joan Didion

We write to discover what we think.

Joan Didion

Writing fiction is for me a fraught business, an occasion of daily dread for at least the first half of the novel, and sometimes all the way through. The work process is totally different from writing nonfiction. You have to sit down every day and make it up.

Joan Didion

Writing nonfiction is more like sculpture, a matter of shaping the research into the finished thing.

Joan Didion

My writing is a process of rewriting, of going back and changing and filling in. in the rewriting process you discover what’s going on, and you go back and bring it up to that point.

Joan Didion

Somehow writing has always seemed to me to have an element of performance.

Joan Didion

The impulse for much writing is homesickness. You are trying to get back home, and in your writing you are invoking that home, so you are assuaging the homesickness.

Joan Didion

It occurs to me as I write that this “white light,” usually presented dippily (evidence of afterlife, higher power), is in fact precisely consistent with the oxygen deficit that occurs as blood flow to the brain decreases. “Everything went white,” those whose blood pressure has dropped say of the instant before they faint.

Joan Didion

When I began writing these pages I believed their subject to be children, the ones we have and the ones we wish we had, the ways in which we depend on our children to depend on us, the ways in which we encourage them to remain children, the ways in which they remain more unknown to us than they do to their more casual acquaintances; the ways in which we remain equally opaque to them.

Joan Didion

My first notebook was a Big Five tablet, given to me [at age five] by my mother with the sensible suggestion that I stop whining and learn to amuse myself by writing down my thoughts.

Joan Didion

Writing is always a way, for me, of coming to some sort of understanding that I can’t reach otherwise.It forces you to think. It forces you to work the thing through. Nothing comes to us out of the blue, very easily.

Joan Didion

Discovery still happens in the writing. You start in nonfiction with a whole lot more going for you, because all the discovery isn’t waiting to be made. You’ve made some of it in the research. As you get deeper into a piece and do more research, the notes are in the direction of the piece – you’re actually writing it.

Joan Didion

There is always a point in the writing of a piece when I sit in a room literally papered with false starts and cannot put one word after another and imagine that I have suffered a small stroke, leaving me apparently undamaged but actually aphasic.

Joan Didion

If you want to understand what you’re thinking, you kind of have to work it through and write it. And the only way to work it through, for me, is to write it.

Joan Didion

On the whole, I don’t want to think too much about why I write what I write. If I know what I’m doing … I can’t do it.

Joan Didion

There must be times when everybody writes when they feel they’re evading writing.

Joan Didion

I myself love to read those Victorian novels which go on and on, and you don’t read them in one sitting. You might read one over the course of a summer, but that isn’t what I want to write.

Joan Didion

I can’t imagine writing if I didn’t have a reader. Any more than an actor can imagine acting without an audience.

Joan Didion

When you’re writing fiction, you don’t have notes necessarily. You don’t carve it, it’s not like a piece of sculpture, it’s more like water color.

Joan Didion

Writing is the act of saying “I,” of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying “listen to me, see it my way, change your mind.”

Joan Didion

I was four or five, and my mother gave me a big black tablet, because I kept complaining that I was bored. She said, “Then write something. Then you can read it.” In fact, I had just learned to read, so this was a thrilling kind of moment. The idea that I could write something – and then read it!

Joan Didion

When you write, you’re always revealing a difficult part of yourself. It may not be a part of yourself that looks as difficult – there are parts that look more difficult – but in fact, they are all difficult, and you get kind of used to doing that. It is sort of the nature of the thing.

Joan Didion

You think you have some stable talent which will show no matter what you’re writing, and if it doesn’t seem to be getting across to the audience once, you can’t imagine that moment when it suddenly will.

Joan Didion

Before I started working on a computer, writing a piece would be like making something up every day, taking the material and never quite knowing where you were going to go next with the material. With a computer it was less like painting and more like sculpture, where you start with a block of something and then start shaping it.

Joan Didion

Novels are like paintings, specifically watercolors. Every stroke you put down you have to go with. Of course you can rewrite, but the original strokes are still there in the texture of the thing.

Joan Didion

What’s so hard about that first sentence is that you’re stuck with it. Everything else is going to flow out of that sentence. And by the time you’ve laid down the first two sentences, your options are all gone.

Joan Didion

Joan Didion Quotes About Books

For Didion, reading books, novels, essays, or nonfiction is an essential part of life that is more than just simple entertainment. Growing up, she faced social anxiety, which became a factor in her struggle to make friends or develop relationships. Hence, she spent much of her early life in books and learning. Her love for reading is evident in the reading list she penned in her notebook, representing the best of 20th-century writing, classics from Ernest Hemingway to Emily Brontë.

If you’re looking for Joan Didion’s quotes about books, the selection below highlights her love for books.

When I’m working on a book, I constantly retype my own sentences. Every day I go back to page one and just retype what I have. It gets me into a rhythm.

Joan Didion

Another thing I need to do, when I’m near the end of the book, is sleep in the same room with it…Somehow the book doesn’t leave you when you’re asleep right next to it.

Joan Didion

Sometimes I’ll be fifty, sixty pages into something and I’ll still be calling a character “X.” I don’t have a very clear idea of who the characters are until they start talking. Then I start to love them. By the time I finish the book, I love them so much that I want to stay with them. I don’t want to leave them ever.

Joan Didion

I start a book and I want to make it perfect, want it to turn every color, want it to be the world. Ten pages in, I’ve already blown it, limited it, made it less, marred it. That’s very discouraging. I hate the book at that point. After a while I arrive at an accommodation: Well, it’s not the ideal, it’s not the perfect object I wanted to make, but maybe, if I go ahead and finish it anyway, I can get it right next time. Maybe I can have another chance.

Joan Didion

It’s hard to find a book that’s safe to write. Because one always goes to dark or difficult places.

Joan Didion

Yes, but another writer I read in high school who just knocked me out was Theodore Dreiser. I read An American Tragedy all in one weekend and couldn’t put it down – I locked myself in my room. Now that was antithetical to every other book I was reading at the time because Dreiser really had no style, but it was powerful.

Joan Didion

Joan Didion Quotes About Writers

Joan Didion’s impact on writers alone is undeniable. A literary legend, Didion influenced millions and will continue to fascinate more in the future. She was a celebrated prose stylist, masterful essayist, novelist, and screenwriter, whose works were timeless and powerful. Writers no doubt looked up to her writings and success story.

If you’re a writer in need of encouragement or at least want to hear words you can relate to, these Joan Didion quotes about writers are the best for you.

Writers are always selling somebody out.

Joan Didion

Had my credentials been in order I would never have become a writer. Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. 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.

Joan Didion

Let me tell you one thing about why writers write: had I known the answer to any of these questions I would never have needed to write a novel.

Joan Didion

As a writer, even as a child, long before what I wrote began to be published, I developed a sense that meaning itself was resident in the rhythms of words and sentences and paragraphs…The way I write is who I am, or have become.

Joan Didion

I use an IBM Thinkpad. I just use it like a typewriter, but when I started using it in 1987, I thought I won’t be able to write anymore, so I thought I’d go back to the typewriter. But you couldn’t go back to the typewriter after using the computer.

Joan Didion

Didion Quotes About Character

Characters play an important part in literature, especially in fiction. As someone who embraced idiosyncrasy and explored individual and social fragmentation, Didion’s impeccable sense of character permeates much of her work. The personalities she uses to complete her wholly authentic stories. Moreover, although she only has a few quotes about characters, the list below is enough to give you an idea or inspiration.

You have to make sure you have the characters you want. That’s really the most complicated part.

Joan Didion

Sometimes an actor performs a character, but sometimes an actor just performs. With writing, I don’t think it’s performing a character, really, if the character you’re performing is yourself. I don’t see that as playing a role. It’s just appearing in public.

Joan Didion

I don’t have a very clear idea of who the characters are until they start talking.

Joan Didion

Didion’s Quotes About Dreams

Writers find inspiration in writing in many things. Among these includes dreams. If you’re looking for an influential writer who has something to say about it, Joan Didion should gain a spot on your list. Although there isn’t much in the selection of quotes below, these statements are enough for you to deem dreams as significant influences, especially in writing.

Quite often you want to tell somebody your dream, your nightmare. Well, nobody wants to hear about someone else’s dream, good or bad; nobody wants to walk around with it. The writer is always tricking the reader into listening to the dream.

Joan Didion

Was it only by dreaming or writing that I could find out what I thought?

Joan Didion

We all have the same dreams.

Joan Didion

Joan Didion’s sixteen books, seven films, plays, and movie scripts helped us understand the world and the people. She wasn’t afraid of discussing her experiences, societal narratives that irked her, and even the strange ways she understands the world. Her boldness and dedication to her craft are remarkable aspects that made her an iconic writer. Thus, Joan Didion’s quotes on writing are something to look forward to, especially for people who need a little push to express their thoughts without hesitation.

Need more motivation in writing other than these lists of quotes from Joan Didion? Check out our collection of quotes on writing from other authors here.

About the Author

CJ grew up admiring books. His family owned a small bookstore throughout his early childhood, and he would spend weekends flipping through book after book, always sure to read the ones that looked the most interesting. Not much has changed since then, except now some of those interesting books he picks off the shelf were designed by his company!