Top 20 Joan Didion Quotes to Spark Inspiration and A Healthy Contemplation

Writer Joan Didion has long been the go to definition of literary cool, sophistication, and style. She is an early innovator in the leading vanguard of creative non-fiction, and new journalism. For decades she has been a chronicler of culture, society, political uprising, and history both public and personal. The icon’s cutting prose includes fiction, essay, and memoir writing. In the 2005 book the Year of Magical Thinking she is a reluctant navigator of the terrains of grief after the death of her husband of nearly 40 years, writer John Gregory Dunne. Blue Nights chronicles the heartbreaking death of Didion’s daughter, who passed away from pancreatitis after escalating health problems and hospitalizations, shortly after the death of Dunne.

The Year of Magical Thinking was adapted into a Broadway play that has toured the world, with translations in French and Norwegian. Didion is also an accomplished screenwriter, and with Dunne co-wrote the screenplays for the Panic in Needle Park, and the 1974 remake of A Star is Born.

The California native, and New York City resident is a National Book Award winner, and a National Medals of Arts and Humanities recipient. The legend isn’t immune to bouts of crippling self-doubt. Her biographer writes that her extreme anxiety sometimes triggered migraines. When you’re contemplating how to find your own path in life, and looking for your own inner voice as an artist, allow these Joan Didion quotations to inspire you.


“There’s a point when you go with what you’ve got. Or you don’t go.” – Joan Didion


“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” – Joan Didion


“I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it.” – Joan Didion


“[Writing is] hostile in that you’re trying to make somebody see something the way you see it, trying to impose your idea, your picture. It’s hostile to try to wrench around someone else’s mind that way. 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


“To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth which constitutes self-respect is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love, and to remain indifferent.” – 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


“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


“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


“Grammar is a piano I play by ear, since I seem to have been out of school the year the rules were mentioned. All I know about grammar is its power.” – Joan Didion


“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.” – Joan Didion


“Was there ever in anyone’s life span a point free in time, devoid of memory, a night when choice was any more than the sum of all the choices gone before?” – Joan Didion


“A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image.” – Joan Didion


“You have to pick the places you don’t walk away from.” – 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


“The willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life is the source from which self-respect springs.” – Joan Didion


“To free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves – there lies the great, singular power of self-respect.” – Joan Didion


“When we start deceiving ourselves into thinking not that we want something… but that it is a moral imperative that we have it, that is when we join the fashionable madmen.” – Joan Didion


“You think you have some stable talent that 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. Gradually, gradually you gain that confidence.” – Joan Didion


“We imagine things – that we wouldn’t be able to survive, but in fact, we do survive. We have no choice, so we do it.” – Joan Didion


“I never had faith that the answers to human problems lay in anything that could be called political. I thought the answers, if there were answers, lay someplace in man’s soul.” ― Joan Didion

Author: Tara Collum

Tara Collum lives in Toronto and grew up in Muskoka. She is the co-creator of a forthcoming web serial about twins in a small town. She believes it is never too late to be the person you are meant to be. Follow Tara on twitter @99percentsun

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