Why I Write

Published 29 May 2017

Joan Didion’s thesis statement in her essay entitled “Why I Write” is revealed in paragraph three wherein she states that, “I stole the title not only because the words sounded right but because they seemed to sum up, in a no-nonsense way, all I have to tell you. 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” (Didion, n.d. p.1). The quoted statement contains the thesis of the essay, personally, because it gives the readers an impression and notion that what she is about to tell on the subsequent paragraphs has certainly something to do with her “act of writing.”

The very idea of “the act of writing” is already somehow imposed on her introduction which states, “In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind” (Didion, n.d. p.1) With that, Didion has already caught the reader’s attention, as if ordering and demanding that we, readers, definitely need to listen to her and to see things in ways she has seen it and she has written.

The body of the essay, presented in the subsequent paragraphs, supports her thesis statement through the examples that she has given. They may not seem to appear as examples however, she presents them in a way that the readers will craft ideas in their mind about her ways, approaches and manners of writing—narrating examples that are anchored on her personal experiences but still reveal them in a manner that she expresses her “act of writing.” Take for example her recount:

I would try to read linguistic theory and would find myself wondering instead if the lights were on in the bevatron up the hill. When I say that I was wondering if the lights were on in the bevatron you might immediately suspect, if you deal in ideas at all, that I was registering the bevatron as a political symbol, thinking in shorthand about the military-industrial complex and its role in the university community, but you would be wrong. I was only wondering if the lights were on in the bevatron, and how they looked. A physical fact (Didion, n.d. p.2).

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Her tone of voice, the persona in the literature, has also helped sustain the thesis statement. The way she comes up and presents her ideas with regards to the manner of writing can definitely be unveiled in the rest of the paragraphs such as:

When I talk about pictures in my mind I am talking, quite specifically, about images that shimmer around the edges. There used to be an illustration in every elementary psychology book showing a cat drawn by a patient in varying stages of schizophrenia…. I’m not a schizophrenic, nor do I take hallucinogens, but certain images do shimmer for me. Look hard enough and you can’t miss the shimmer. It’s there. You can’t think too much about these pictures that shimmer. You just lie low and let them develop. You stay quiet. You don’t talk to many people and you keep your nervous system from shorting out and you try to locate the cat in the shimmer, the grammar in the picture (Didion, n.d. p.3-4).

Definitely, her main points in her essay revolve in the core idea of writing—how she writes and why she writes. It involves the conceptions of ideas and images, the construction of sentences, phrases and the “shimmering” of things—the grammar.

Didion writes and expresses her ideas in a photographical and philosophical manner. She sees things in details and in different angles, just like how a photographer manipulates his or her pictures in a viewfinder; Didion has also the power to maneuver her images in words, portraying and illustrating pictures in diverse angles and focus.

She writes philosophically, making me remember the famous line of Socrates, “the only thing I know is that I know nothing.” In Why I Write, Didion divulges a statement somewhat akin to Socrates’, she declares, “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” (Didion, n.d. p.1).

From the statement, Didion bestows the readers the idea that prior to her discovery that she is a writer; she is someone who does not belong in the world of ideas, in the world of images. However, it must not be explained how she becomes a writer, especially why she writes because her conclusion says and implies so, “Let me tell you one thing about why writers write: had I known the answer to any of these questions I would never have needed to write a novel” (Didion, n.d. p.8). Didion’s Why I Write offers a myriad of ideas that will definitely prick in the reader’s head—that writers have the power “to impose things upon other people”—especially if the writer utilizes the first person point of view in writing, which is “I.” It entails and insists upon the readers, “listen to me, see it my way, change your mind” (Didion, n.d. p.1).


  • Didion, J. (n.d). Why I Write.
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