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If you like Joan Didion's story, you might also like:
Maya Angelou,
Nora Ephron,
Louise Glück,
Nadine Gordimer,
Khaled Hosseini,
John Irving,
Norman Mailer,
Joyce Carol Oates,
Carol Shields,
Amy Tan,
John Updike,
Gore Vidal
and Tom Wolfe

Related Links:
On Fiction
THe New Yorker
On Nonfiction

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Joan Didion
Joan Didion
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Joan Didion Interview (page: 4 / 6)

National Book Award

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  Joan Didion

When one reads your prose, it feels like you just sat down and wrote it that way the first time, because it's so spare, and because the language is so powerful, but from what you are describing, there are actually a number of drafts.

Joan Didion: Endless drafts.

Has the computer helped you a lot?

Joan Didion: I didn't like it when I first began using it. Where it's helped me a lot is in non-fiction which is a kind of different process. You've got research, you've got your notes, You can block out what you want to work on for the next 10 pages and put it in another file, and then you can kind of carve it into shape. 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.

When you're writing fiction, do you know how it's going to turn out?

Joan Didion: Sometimes I do. I don't know how it's going to get there, but I know how it's going to end. For example, in The Last Thing He Wanted, which was my last novel, I knew that the end required a double set-up, but I didn't know what the set-up would be until I got there.

So what did you end up doing there?

Joan Didion Interview Photo
Joan Didion: This book had so complicated a plot that I had to write it in about three months in order to keep the plot in my mind. It's too complicated to explain, but basically she gets set up, and he gets set up. The way she is set up is she is supposed to have killed him. She apparently kills him. Now, actually, she doesn't kill him. Someone else kills him. A sniper kills him, but she is targeted as the alleged assassin because some Sandinista literature will be discovered in her hotel room. It was a double set-up.

Do you carve out certain hours of the day that are devoted to writing, or is it sort of as the mood strikes you?

Joan Didion: I work every day. Sometimes I don't accomplish anything every day, but if I don't work every day, I get depressed and get afraid to start again. So I do something every day.

Seven days a week?

Joan Didion: Yeah. Obviously, today I'm not doing something, and tomorrow I'm not doing something because I'm flying. So it will take me about three days this week to get to working again.

So you feel like if you stay away from it for very long, you won't feel confident enough to go back. Even today?

Joan Didion: Even more so now, because I know I'll lose the impetus to do it.

We interviewed John Updike, and he said when he sees his books in the bookstore, he always feels like he got away with something. It's astonishing that someone of his stature would still have that insecurity.

Joan Didion: It's not an occupation that attracts really secure people. I've never really examined it, but I suppose it's a kind of secret activity which you can undertake on your own. In fact, you need to undertake it on your own. It doesn't increase your socialization.

You have said that you write to find out how you feel.

Joan Didion: And what you think.

When commentators look at your work, they sometimes group you with the so-called "New Journalists" --Tom Wolfe and so on. In your non-fiction, you've always been present as a character, as a protagonist in a way.

Joan Didion: I had a strong feeling that it was necessary, that there was no reason to trust the reporter unless you knew where the reporter was. And if you didn't know where the reporter was standing, then I really objected to the notion of objectivity, soi disant objectivity, because it didn't seem to me very real. The reporter is always standing someplace.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

Joan Didion: I don't mean that he is biased, you just want to know where he's standing, so that you can triangulate different reports from different people against each other.

It's paradoxical. You've described yourself as being soft-spoken, yet in your writing, you are very outspoken.

Joan Didion: That's another sneaky part of it. It's a place where I can be someone other than my exact face to the world.

So there's a difference between how you are in the world and your writing?

Joan Didion: I think there is less of a difference now, but there certainly was a difference.

Could you tell us about how you met John Gregory Dunne and how you came to work together as a team?

Joan Didion: We were friends for a long time before we decided to get married. I met him, he was working for Time. He was writing foreign news for Time, and he was just someone I liked and he made me laugh, and we would occasionally have lunch. We had friends in common. Then, for some reason -- I don't remember exactly why -- but one night we had dinner. He said he was going to drive to Hartford the next day -- he was from Hartford -- did I want to come up, and I said sure. So I went up to Hartford, where his family lived, and I was so taken with this entire family that we started seeing each other in a more serious light. Really, at that time, he was, as I said, working for Time. I had published one novel. Neither one of us was very well established, and we went to California and started supporting ourselves by writing pieces. So that required one or the other of us -- me to read his pieces, him to read my pieces. So we began to trust each other as first reader.

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This page last revised on Mar 28, 2011 11:26 EDT
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