What Joan Didion Taught Me About Writing

Ten tips from decades of reading—and interviewing—the master

Sara Davidson
Creators Hub

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Photo: Ted Streshinsky Photographic Archive / Contributor

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I arranged to meet Joan Didion in 1971 after reading Slouching Toward Bethlehem. I found her essays hypnotic, in a voice I’d never heard, expressing with clarity ideas I knew were true but couldn’t have articulated. I was reporting for several magazines and asked a colleague who’d met her to introduce us. He gave me her number and when I was in L.A., I took a deep breath, dialed it, and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, picked up the phone. I asked for Joan Didion.

“Who’s calling?”

I told him my name, and said I wanted to tell her how much I liked her work… Then, realizing he was also a writer, I stammered, “I…I mean…I like your writing also…”

“Just a minute,” he said. Joan picked up the phone and her first words were: “Would you like to come to dinner?”

Although she’s shy and can be reticent with strangers, we had much in common: we’d grown up in California, gone to Berkeley, joined a sorority and quit, majored in English and studied with Mark Schorer but in different decades, she in the Fifties, I in the…

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Sara Davidson
Creators Hub

Sara Davidson is the N.Y. Times best-selling author of Loose Change, The December Project, and The Didion Files, 50 Years of Friendship with Joan Didion