Joan Didion, The Art of Fiction No. 71

Today I messaged a friend (Teresa Trout) about a strange dream I had last night about a whale trying to knock down a bridge.  She replied with the following quote from Joan Didion:

INTERVIEWER

You have said that writing is a hostile act; I have always wanted to ask you why.

JOAN DIDION

It’s 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.

Which is probably the smartest way anyone has ever told me to shut up.

On Writing vs Acting

INTERVIEWER

When did you know you wanted to write?

DIDION

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.

Call Me Ishmael
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.
It was like so, but wasn’t.
Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.
I was the shadow of the waxwing slain / By the false azure in the windowpane;
There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.
It was a pleasure to burn.
In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
He—for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it—was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters.

INTERVIEWER

You have said that once you have your first sentence you’ve got your piece. That’s what Hemingway said. All he needed was his first sentence and he had his short story.

DIDION

What’s so hard about that first sentence is that you’re stuck with it. Everything else is going to flow out of that sentence. And by the time you’ve laid down the first two sentences, your options are all gone.

More from the interview:
https://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/3439/joan-didion-the-art-of-fiction-no-71-joan-didion

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