122 Thought-Provoking Joan Didion Quotes on Life

Joan Didion, born on December 5, 1934, is an acclaimed American novelist and literary journalist, known for her works that reflect the disintegration of American social morals.

Growing up as a keen reader, she pursued English literature and started her writing career at Vogue, eventually progressing to associate feature editor.

She published her first fiction, “Run, River,” in 1963 and later non-fiction works like “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” and “The White Album,” documenting her experiences in California.

Joan Didion

Didion’s novel “Democracy,” set during the Cold War, was noted for its narrative technique, though its use of realism later drew criticism.

Alongside fiction, she produced numerous literary essays, including the book-length “Salvador,” reflecting on American involvement in El Salvador.

Her career also witnessed collaborations with her husband, Dunne, on several screenplays.

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Didion’s book “The Year of Magical Thinking” provided therapeutic relief, capturing her grief over her husband’s death and her daughter’s illness.

I have selected the most famous Joan Didion quotes in this post.

Best Joan Didion Quotes


Memories are what you no longer want to remember. ~ Joan Didion.

The wind shows us how close to the edge we are. ~ Joan Didion.

What makes Iago evil? Some people ask. I never ask. ~ Joan Didion.

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

You aren’t sure if you’re making the right decision – about anything, ever. ~ Joan Didion.

Writers are only rarely likable. ~ Joan Didion.

The future always looks good in the golden land, because no one remembers the past. ~ Joan Didion.

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

I mean maybe I was holding all the aces, but what was the game?”

To the average observer I would have appeared to fully understand that death was irreversible. ~ Joan Didion.

When I am near the end of a book, I have to sleep in the same room with it. ~ Joan Didion.

Information is control. ~ Joan Didion.

Do not whine. Do not complain. Work harder. Spend more time alone. ~ Joan Didion.

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

You had to feel the swell change. You had to go with the change. He told me that. No eye is on the sparrow but he did tell me that. ~ Joan Didion.

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

Some of us who live in arid parts of the world think about water with a reverence others might find excessive. ~ Joan Didion.

To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth which constitutes self-respect is potentially to have everything. ~ 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.

Our favorite people and our favorite stories become so not by any inherent virtue, but because they illustrate something deep in the grain, something unadmitted. ~ Joan Didion.

I learned early to keep death in my line of sight, keep it under surveillance, keep it on cleared ground and away from any brush where it might coil unnoticed. ~ Joan Didion.

A young woman with long hair and a short white halter dress walks through the casino at the Riviera in Las Vegas at one in the morning. It was precisely this moment that made Play It As It Lays begin to tell itself to me. ~ Joan Didion.

I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us. ~ Joan Didion.

In terms of work, I never felt that I’ve done it right. I always want to have done it differently, to have done it better, a different way. ~ Joan Didion.

Inspirational Joan Didion Quotes

Novels are almost like music or poetry – they just come to me in simple sentences, whereas I think my pieces get more and more complex ever since I’ve started using a computer. ~ Joan Didion.

Why did I keep stressing what was and was not normal, when nothing about it was? ~ Joan Didion.

When my mother was near death at age ninety she told me that she was ready to die but could not. ‘You and Jim need me,’ she said. My brother and I were then in our sixties. ~ Joan Didion.

The writer is always tricking the reader into listening to their dream. ~ Joan Didion.


Time is the school in which we learn. ~ 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.

I did consider marriage and motherhood extreme and doomed commitments. Not out of any experience of them as such, but it was simply the way I looked at things. ~ Joan Didion.

I have not been the witness I wanted to be. ~ Joan Didion.

The fear is for what is still to be lost. ~ Joan Didion.

The elapsed time indicated that the time spent at New York Hospital had been, as I had thought, just bookkeeping, hospital procedure, the regularization of a death. ~ Joan Didion.

We tell ourselves stories in order to live. ~ Joan Didion.

Late afternoon on the West Coast ends with the sky doing all its brilliant stuff. ~ Joan Didion.

I was in love with New York. I do not mean ‘love’ in any colloquial way, I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and never love anyone quite that way again. ~ Joan Didion.

Famous Joan Didion Quotes

I need an hour alone before dinner, with a drink, to go over what I’ve done that day. I can’t do it late in the afternoon because I’m too close to it. Also, the drink helps. It removes me from the pages. ~ Joan Didion.

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

Memory fades, memory adjusts, memory conforms to what we think we remember. ~ Joan Didion.

We still counted happiness and health and love and luck and beautiful children as ordinary blessings. ~ Joan Didion.

I’m totally in control of this tiny, tiny world right there at the typewriter. ~ Joan Didion.

Why do you always have to be right. Why do you always have to have the last word. For once in your life just let it go. ~ Joan Didion.

One of the things that happens to people in grief is they secretly think they’re crazy, because they realize they are thinking things that don’t make sense. ~ Joan Didion.

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

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

I lead a very conventional life. ~ Joan Didion.

We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the 221. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images. ~ Joan Didion.

Great Joan Didion Quotes

We tell ourselves stories in order to live. We live entirely by the impression of a narrative line upon disparate images, the shifting phantasmagoria, which is our actual experience. ~ Joan Didion.

There’s a lot of landscape I never would have described if I hadn’t been homesick. The impulse was nostalgia. ~ Joan Didion.

Vegas is the most extreme and allegorical of American settlements, bizarre and beautiful in its venality and in its devotion to immediate gratification. ~ Joan Didion.

I know what “nothing” means, and keep on playing. ~ Joan Didion.

Someday it all comes. ~ Joan Didion.

The secret point of money and power in America is neither the things that money can buy nor power for power’s sake but absolute personal freedom, mobility, privacy. ~ Joan Didion.

Terror is the given of the place. ~ Joan Didion.

One thing in my defense, not that it matters: I know something Carter never knew, or Helene, or maybe you. I know what nothing” means, and keep on playing. ~ Joan Didion.

Everything goes. I am working very hard at not thinking about how everything goes. ~ Joan Didion.

I am a writer. Imagining what someone would say or do comes to me as naturally as breathing. ~ 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.

A single person is missing for you, and the whole world is empty. ~ 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. ~ Joan Didion.

Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends. ~ Joan Didion.

Wise Joan Didion Quotes

I read so ravenously that I would read through whole categories. I was crazy about reading biographies. I think biographies are very urgent to children. ~ Joan Didion.

Certain places seem to exist mainly because someone has written about them. ~ Joan Didion.

I never actually learned the rules of grammar, relying instead only on what sounded right. ~ 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.

We write to discover what we think. ~ 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.

I know what the fear is. The fear is not for what is lost. What is lost is already in the wall. What is lost is already behind the locked doors. The fear is for what is still to be lost. ~ Joan Didion.

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

Nothing I read about grief seemed to exactly express the craziness of it; which was the interesting aspect of it to me – how really tenuous our sanity is. ~ 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.

When the ground starts moving, all bets are off. ~ Joan Didion.

We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. ~ Joan Didion.

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

Top Joan Didion Quotes

California is a place in which a boom mentality and a sense of Chekhovian loss meet in uneasy suspension. ~ Joan Didion.

Self-respect is a question of recognizing that anything worth having has a price. ~ Joan Didion.

Nonfiction is more personal for me. It’s more personal in that it’s more direct, and actually it’s always been more direct, even when I first started doing pieces. ~ Joan Didion.

I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be. ~ Joan Didion.

Becoming a parent is actually terrifying. A lot of people have that feeling about their dogs. And if you’re the kind of person who’s going to have that feeling about a dog you’re definitely going to have that about a child. ~ Joan Didion.

As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. ~ Joan Didion.

Read, learn, work it up, go to the literature. Information is control. ~ Joan Didion.


We are the stories we tell ourselves. ~ 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.

It occurs to me that we allow ourselves to imagine only such messages as we need to survive. ~ Joan Didion.

Grief, when it comes, is nothing like we expect it to be. ~ Joan Didion.

That no one dies of migraine seems, to someone deep into an attack, an ambiguous blessing. ~ Joan Didion.

Of course, you always think about how it will be read. I always aim for a reading in one sitting. ~ Joan Didion.

Aging and its evidence remain life’s most predictable events, yet they also remain matters we prefer to leave unmentioned, unexplored. ~ 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.

To cure jealousy is to see it for what it is, a dissatisfaction with self, an impossible claim that one should be at once Rose Bowl princess, medieval scholar, Saint Joan, Milly Theale, Temple Drake, Eleanor of Aquitaine, one. ~ Joan Didion.

Positive Joan Didion Quotes

The distance from our building to the part of New York–Presbyterian that used to be New York Hospital is six crosstown blocks. I have no memory of sirens. I have no memory of traffic. ~ 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.

The ability to think for one’s self depends upon one’s mastery of the language. ~ Joan Didion.

We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. ~ Joan Didion.

I have come to see, we knew not the smallest fraction of what there was to know.~Joan Didion

Waiting in the line seemed the constructive thing to do. Waiting in the line said that there was still time to deal with this. ~ Joan Didion.

Grammar is a piano I play by ear. ~ Joan Didion.

Innocence ends when one is stripped of the delusion that one likes oneself. ~ Joan Didion.

I closed the box and put it in a closet. There is no real way to deal with everything we lose. ~ Joan Didion.

People tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests. And it always does. That is one last thing to remember. Writers are always selling somebody out. ~ Joan Didion.

Some years passed, but I still did not lose that sense of wonder about New York. I began to cherish the loneliness of it, the sense that at any given time no one need know where I was or what I was doing. ~ Joan Didion.

Water under the bridge and dynamite it behind you. ~ Joan Didion.

We are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. ~ Joan Didion.

Anything worth having has its price. ~ Joan Didion.

We all have the same dreams. ~ Joan Didion.

There’s a general impulse to distract the grieving person – as if you could. ~ Joan Didion.

Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant. ~ Joan Didion.

Profound Joan Didion Quotes

Water is important to people who do not have it, and the same is true of control. ~ Joan Didion.

You have to pick the places you don’t walk away from. ~ Joan Didion.

The last sentence in a piece is another adventure. It should open the piece up. ~ Joan Didion.

The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it. ~ Joan Didion.

It is often said that New York is a city for only the very rich and the very poor. It is less often said that New York is also, at least for those of us who came there from somewhere else, a city for only the very young. ~ 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.

New York was no mere city. It was instead an infinitely romantic notion. ~ Joan Didion.

I’ve never been keen on open adoption. It doesn’t seem to solve the main problem with adoption, which is that somebody feels she was abandoned by someone else. ~ Joan Didion.

It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends. ~ Joan Didion.

I have always wanted a swimming pool and never had one. ~ Joan Didion.

To cure jealousy is to see it for what it is, a dissatisfaction with self. ~ 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.

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.

My stake is always, of course, in the unmentioned girl in the plaid silk dress. Remember what it was to be me: that is always the point. ~ Joan Didion.

Marriage is not only time: it is also, paradoxically, the denial of time. For forty years I saw myself through John’s eyes. I did not age. ~ Joan Didion.


I am what I am. To look for reasons is beside the point. ~ Joan Didion.

I wanted to be an oceanographer, actually. It’s a way of going underwater. I’ve always been interested in how deep it was, you know. ~ Joan Didion.

I don’t think anybody feels like they’re a good parent. Or if people think they’re good parents, they ought to think again. ~ Joan Didion.

So these were the 122 top Joan Didion quotes and sayings on life, self-respect and loss.

If you like these quotes and sayings, then you can also read my other posts on Mindy Kaling quotes and Dan Pena quotes.

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Chandan Negi
Chandan Negi

I’m the Founder of Internet Pillar - I love sharing quotes and motivational content to inspire and motivate people - #quotes #motivation #internetpillar