Highlight on Joan Didion

During the month of November, (a time when Americans are reminded to be hyperaware of our gratitude and give thanks for life’s bounty) I wish to highlight gratitude for the bounty of great writers that have come before us to help show the way.

They provide examples for us to be inspired by, emulate, and strive to match or outshine their achievements with our own styles of storytelling.

If that feels ominous, it isn’t. Not all of us aim to be commercially best-selling authors. Some of us just have stories to tell and wish to write them well.

With this in mind, I offer you an interview with author Joan Didion.
(notable works Slouching Towards Bethlehem)

Like many excellent writers, I came across her work years after her accolades were being sung, but it was an interview with her that truly made me sit up and take notice of her take on what it is to be a writer.

I encourage you to seek out her many interviews on the art of writing.

Here is an excerpt from Joan Didion, The Art of Fiction No. 71

Interviewed by Linda Kuehl

When did you know you wanted to write?


I wrote stories from the time I was a little girl, but I didn’t want to be a writer. I wanted to be an actress. I didn’t realize then that it’s the same impulse. It’s make-believe. It’s performance. The only difference being that a writer can do it all alone. I was struck a few years ago when a friend of ours—an actress—was having dinner here with us and a couple of other writers. It suddenly occurred to me that she was the only person in the room who couldn’t plan what she was going to do. She had to wait for someone to ask her, which is a strange way to live.


Did you ever have a writing teacher?


Mark Schorer was teaching at Berkeley when I was an undergraduate there, and he helped me. I don’t mean he helped me with sentences, or paragraphs—nobody has time for that with student papers; I mean that he gave me a sense of what writing was about, what it was for.

For the complete interview:

*Did you take away any inspiration from Didion’s unique point of view?

Do you have any authors that have inspired you through interviews?

Would you be willing to suggest them here?*


Interesting interview with Didion. I don’t get to read a lot of interviews, so I can’t really comment on that second question, but I did find some points in this transcript that stood out for me.

I think it’s interesting that Didion mentions she has a difficult time determining the writer’s gender identity by reading a piece. I got a good chuckle out of this, mostly because I frequently have readers think I’m a man. I’m not, but in books/shows/media I often identify more with male characters than female characters.

Didion is spot on with her comments on how landscapes and weather effect people. I grew up in FL, and there are environmental factors from my childhood/teenage years that still factor into how I handle situations, make choices, interact with others, etc. I’d just never heard anyone verbalize this before, and I didn’t expect to appreciate it this much when I did.

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