65 Fantastic Joan Didion Quotes on Life and More

Joan Didion was one of the most important figures of the American literary landscape of the 20th century. Many Joan Didion quotes pack a punch, offer insight into a variety of topics, and often shine even more when we know the context of her life.

In her earlier years, she moved through the country a lot because of her father’s job in the Army. She suffered from social anxiety, wasn’t able to make friends or develop relationships. So instead, she spent her earlier years lost in books and learning.

This paid off when she won a contest sponsored by Vogue in 1956 and was rewarded with a job as a research assistant.

During the 60s and 70s, she became well known for her writings that centered on the counterculture of the 60s and the Hollywood lifestyle.

Joan Didion Photograph

Joan Didion had an incredible way with words and her writing always strikes a nerve with her readers. It’s because of her distinctive, journalistic style and her sense of character and irony. It made her one of the best-known prose writers of our time.

One thing you’ll find out when you read her work is that Joan Didion just gets people.

Over the course of her life, she won multiple awards, including the National Book Award for Nonfiction, the Pulitzer Price for ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ and she was awarded the National Medal of Arts.

This rich career is filled with insights on life, reflections on people, and timeless wisdom.

In this article I will present to you some of my favorite Joan Didion quotes. If you’re interested in more quotes, check out my articles on Ernest Hemingway quotes and deep Twitter quotes.

Table of Contents

Best Joan Didion Quotes

Best Joan Didion Quotes

“A single person is missing for you, and the whole world is empty.“

“During the blue nights you think the end of day will never come. As the blue nights draw to a close (and they will, and they do) you experience an actual chill, an apprehension of illness, at the moment you first notice: the blue light is going, the days are already shortening, the summer is gone…Blue nights are the opposite of the dying of the brightness, but they are also its warning.”

“I know what ‘nothing’ means, and I keep on playing.”

“I went because I was interested in the alchemy of issues.”

“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. To seize the moment.”

“It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends. I can remember now, with a clarity that makes the nerves in the back of my neck constrict, when New York began for me, but I cannot lay my finger upon the moment it ended, can never cut through the ambiguities and second starts and broken resolves to the exact place on the page where the heroine is no longer as optimistic as she once was.”

“To the average observer I would have appeared to fully understand that death was irreversible.”

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.“

“Why did I keep stressing what was and was not normal, when nothing about it was?”

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

Joan Didion Quotes on Life

Joan Didion Quotes Life

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

“…we never reach a point at which our lives lie before us as a clearly marked open road, never have and never should expect a map to the years ahead, never do close those circles that seem, at thirteen and fourteen and nineteen, so urgently in need of closing.”

“[I] would even think, God forgive me, that there must be a certain peace in outliving all debts and claims, in being known to no one, floating free. I believed that days would be too full forever, too crowded with friends there was no time to see…I was wrong.”

“[O]ne of the mixed blessings of being twenty and twenty-one and even twenty-three is the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, has ever happened to anyone before.“

“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.”

“As adults we lose memory of the gravity and terrors of childhood.”

“As time goes by I think that men who were unable to make choices were more right than those who made them.”

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

“Do not whine…Do not complain. Work harder. Spend more time alone.”

“However long we postpone it, we eventually lie down alone in that notoriously uncomfortable bed, the one we make ourselves. Whether or not we sleep in it, depends, of course, on whether or not we respect ourselves.”

“I am what I am. To look for reasons is beside the point.”

“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 door. The fear is for what is still to be lost.“

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

“In theory momentos serve to bring back the moment. In fact they serve only to make clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here.” 

“Innocence ends when we are stripped of the delusion one likes oneself.”

“It occurs to me that we allow ourselves to imagine only such messages as we need to survive.”

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

“Memory fades, memory adjusts, memory conforms to what we think we remember.”

“Read, learn, work it up, go to the literature. Information is control.”

“That was the year, my twenty-eighth, when I was discovering that not all of the promises would be kept, that some things are in fact irrevocable and that it has counted after all, every evasion and every procrastination, every mistake, every word, all of it.”

“The fear is for what is still to be lost.”

“There was silence. Something real was happening: this was, as it were, her life. If she could keep that in mind she would be able to play it through, do the right thing, whatever that meant.”

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

“Time is the school in which we learn.”

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

“Water is important to people who do not have it, and the same is true of control.”

“We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer. As we will one day not be at all.“

“We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were. “

Joan Didion Quotes on Loss

Joan Didion Quotes Loss

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

“I did not want to finish the year because I know that as the days pass, as January becomes February and February becomes summer, certain things will happen. My image of John at the instant of his death will become less immediate, less raw. It will become something that happened in another year.”

“I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us.”

“People who have recently lost someone have a certain look, recognizable maybe only to those who have seen that look on their own faces. I have noticed it on my face and I notice it now on others. The look is one of extreme vulnerability, nakedness, openness. It is the look of someone who walks from the ophthalmologist’s office into the bright daylight with dilated eyes, or of someone who wears glasses and is suddenly made to take them off. These people who have lost someone look naked because they think themselves invisible.”

“There is no real way to deal with everything we lose.“

Joan Didion Quotes on Love

Joan Didion Quotes Love

“I did not always think he was right nor did he always think I was right but we were each the person the other trusted.”

“I don’t know what ‘fall in love’ means. It’s not part of my world.”

“Maybe once you realized you had to do it alone, you were on your way home. And maybe the most difficult, most important thing anyone could do for anyone else was to leave him alone; it was perhaps the only gratuitous act, the act of love.”

Joan Didion Quotes on Marriage

Joan Didion Quotes Marriage

“Marriage is memory, marriage is time. Marriage is not only time: it is also, paradoxically, the denial of time.”

“Should there be marital unhappiness it will go unmentioned until one of the principals is seen lunching with a lawyer.”

Joan Didion Quotes on Parenting

“When we talk about mortality we are talking about our children.”

“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.”

“Instead, ourselves the beneficiaries of this kind of benign neglect, we now measure success as the extent to which we manage to keep our children monitored, tethered, tied to us.”

Joan Didion Quotes on People

Joan Didion Quotes People

“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.”

“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.”

Joan Didion Quotes on Writing

Joan Didion Quotes Writing.

“Fiction is in most ways hostile to ideology.”

“As it happens I am still committed to the idea that the ability to think for one’s self depends upon one’s mastery of the language, and I am not optimistic about children who will settle for saying, to indicate that their mother and father do not live together, that they come from ‘a broken home.’”

“I am still committed to the idea that the ability to think for one’s self depends upon one’s mastery of the language.“

“Grammar is a piano I play by ear. All I know about grammar is its power.”

“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. So I spend this hour taking things out and putting other things in. Then I start the next day by redoing all of what I did the day before, following these evening notes. When I’m really working I don’t like to go out or have anybody to dinner, because then I lose the hour. If I don’t have the hour, and start the next day with just some bad pages and nowhere to go, I’m in low spirits. Another thing I need to do, when I’m near the end of the book, is sleep in the same room with it. That’s one reason I go home to Sacramento to finish things. Somehow the book doesn’t leave you when you’re asleep right next to it. In Sacramento nobody cares if I appear or not. I can just get up and start typing.”

“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.“

“In time of trouble, I had been trained since childhood, read, learn, work it up, go to the literature. Information was control.“

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

“My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrustive, and so neurotically inarticulate that 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.”

“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 their dream.”

“The impulse to write things down is a particularly 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.”

“You get the sense that it’s possible simply to go through life noticing things and writing them down and that this is OK, it’s worth doing. That the seemingly insignificant things that most of us spend our days noticing are really significant, have meaning, and tell us something.“

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