Yesterday, I read an article on writing by one of my favourite writers - Joan Didion - and I’m going to steal chunks of it here because I think it’s important. It was for me, but maybe it will resonate with you too. Here goes:
Like many writers I have only this one “subject,” this one “area”: the act of writing. I can bring you no reports from any other front. I may have other interests: I am “interested,” for example, in marine biology, but I don’t flatter myself that you would come out to hear me talk about it.
Sometime later, she hits The Nail really hard in the face with The Hammer:
In short my attention was always on the periphery on what I could see and taste and touch, on the butter, and the Greyhound bus. During those years I was traveling on what I knew to be a very shaky passport, forged papers: I knew that I was no legitimate resident in any world of ideas. I knew I couldn’t think. All I knew then was what I couldn’t do. All I knew then was what I wasn’t, and it took me some years to discover what I was.
Which was a writer.
By which I mean not a “good” writer or a “bad” writer but simply a writer, a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on pieces of paper. Had my credentials been in order I would never have become a writer. Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. 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.Why did the oil refineries around Carquinez Straits seem sinister to me in the summer of 1956? Why have the night lights in the bevatron burned in my mind for twenty years? What is going on in these pictures in my mind?
That section in bold is the one that swung it for me:
I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.
When I had read this over and over because I was captivated by what it meant, I realised she was talking to me.
I figured that what people respond to most is when I write about life. Anyone - (well, maybe not anyone) - can write a 'story' but only I can see through my eyes and colour it with all the filters that already exist in my head. I see no other reason to have accumulated so much junk in there and held onto it for so long. Thus, on this fine day, I have decided not to write certain types of things anymore - ie: fiction, though I do have a few scraps around here that I'll finish just because I should.
There simply comes a time when you must decide what you're going to talk about around here - and that time is now.
It sits well. Maybe I need a photograph of myself that makes me look like the kind of writer I think I am. That picture of Joan (from Vogue I think) says more than any biography could. Once you know she's a writer, this photograph says everything else there ever was to say - in fact, you don't even have to know she's a writer for it to speak to you:
I will more than likely steal this idea very soon. I don't think Joan will mind.
There's also a Netflix documentary about her called The Center Will Not Hold. Here's the trailer: