Megan Farrimond reflects on Joan Didion’s legacy and its impact on budding writers like herself.
Life sustains Joan Didion’s work and at times her writing seems to blend the two together seamlessly. There are few people needed to remove a sense of privacy in the face of relatability, and Joan thankfully gave us this access.
Didion was part of the New Journalists, which included writers Truman Capote and Tom Wolfe, a genre of writing that blurred the fictional and journalistic facts. The style focuses around the personal voice and this often means that the writing, despite fears that the line also blurs the objective writer with a subjective one, also meant that it’s standpoint was much more accessible and exciting for readers. The New Journalists also proved that subjectivity has a place in journalism. Didion often placed herself at the centre of experience, such as building relationships with hippies during the Summer of Love in order to dispel criticisms which surrounded the counterculture in the mainstream newspapers of the 60s. In a 1978 interview for the Paris Review, Didion explained why she famously believed writing to be a hostile act: “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”. This sense of writing as a subtle, but constant persuasion to the reader to join in on your idea is what makes the idea of writing and journalism so inviting.
She further writes on the importance of keeping a notebook, or rather how her own notebook has shaped her life and work. I have always stressed this too, and the Notes app has made this even more accessible to us. As we observe ourselves and the world around us immediately, it’s easier to sell these observations to the reader, and as she notes, invite them into your own frame of reference. It’s how the world feels to you that makes conversations so inviting and readings so accessible. Jotting down your experience in this way makes your writing style unique. Taking notes like this and creating an essay or an article feels like finding a way to de-scatter the mind and combine style with charm and relatability.
In terms of privately writing (although there is always a choice as to how much of yourself you make public), Joan stressed the importance of being at the centre of it. She writes in her essay On Keeping a Notebook (which you can find in the collection of essays Slouching Towards Bethlehem – my favourite of hers!): “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” … “it all comes back, even that recipe for sauerkraut, even that brings it back”. As we move through life and forget what it felt like to be 17 or 21, it’s always nice to have that journal entry to remind us what we were making for tea that night or how much we hated school.