Joan Didion: In a Room Literally Papered With False Starts

December 10, 2010 § 3 Comments

I am not sure what more I could tell you about these pieces. I could tell you that I liked doing some of them more than others, but that all of them were hard for me to do, and took more time than perhaps they were worth; that 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 …

What else is there to tell? I am bad at interviewing people. I avoid situations in which I have to talk to anyone’s press agent. (This precludes doing pieces on most actors, a bonus in itself.) I do not like to make telephone calls, and would not like to count the mornings I have sat on some Best Western motel bed somewhere and tried to force myself to put through the call to the assistant district attorney. My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, 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.

—Joan Didion, from Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays


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§ 3 Responses to Joan Didion: In a Room Literally Papered With False Starts

  • Mary R says:

    Good lord, I love Joan Didion. If any writer wants to get a handle on how good CNF is done, you can’t go wrong by starting with Didion.

  • Louise says:

    I loved this intro to Slouching Towards Bethlehem, which I only discovered about a year ago (I know, I have some catching up to do). That last sentence, “Writers are always selling somebody out” hit me like a punch in the gut. I think somewhere in the ellipses is the part where she talks about the writing doing for the trouble what the gin did for the pain, which I considered hopeful, in a way. If someone as brilliant as she is can still feel that way maybe there’s hope for the rest of us.

  • […] Didion famously wrote that “writers are always selling somebody out.” Songwriters, painters, novelists and […]

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