On December 5, 1976, The New York Times Magazine published Joan Didion’s essay Why I Write. Acting as both a personal narrative and a reflection, the essay describes Didion’s unique creative method and details the reasons why she became a writer. In order to demonstrate her creative process, Didion describes the inspiration behind two of her novels, Play It As It Lays and A Book of Common Prayer.
W e created a space where important quotes are identified and expanded upon to help readers understand and ask questions about the piece.
Some Thoughts on Significant Quotations from Why I Write
When reading Why I Write. pay attention to the images Didion writes about. Visual description is a characteristic part of Didion’s style, and understanding the essay Why I Write is helpful in gaining understanding of Didion’s unique style and may prove useful in reading her other works. In her essay, Didion describes how she wrote two novels, “Play It As It Lays” and “A Book of Common Prayer” (see Term Definitions ). Didion’s primary source of inspiration for these works were images, both from her memory and from her imagination, inside her head.
Milton, John – and English poet, politician, and thinker famous for publishing Paradise Lost. an epic poem that includes Christian themes and human values.
cosmology – a branch of thinking that deals with the nature of the universe
bevatron – an extremely powerful particle accelerator used to generate large amounts of energy
peripheral – part of the outer field of vision; concerned with relatively minor, irrelevant, or superficial aspects of the subject in question.
“Play It As It Lays” – a 1970 novel by Didion about Maria Wyeth, a failed actress who suffers a mental breakdown after she is involved in the suicide of a close friend.
While recovering, she reflects upon her life and her affairs with numerous men, her frustrating childhood, her lost dream of becoming an actress in Hollywood, the abortion she was forced into by her husband, and her hospitalized daughter. The work contains themes of emptiness and lost dreams, and is regarded as chronicle of the struggles of Didion’s generation.
“A Book of Common Prayer” – a 1977 novel by Didion about two women who struggle with personal and political tragedy in a Central American country
Questions to Ponder:
Why does Didion say that her “inability to deal with ideas” helps her to become a writer? How is writing a way of finding out more about our surroundings and lives?
Didion’s strong visual memories of images help her find inspiration for her works. Identify a visual memory from your own life – like a old home, a familiar face, or a personal object – and write a short paragraph that describes the feelings you have connected with that image.
Didion, Joan. “Why I Write.” Modern American Prose. Ed. John Clifford and Robert DiYanni. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1993. Print.