Joan Didion Quote

EP 14: Joan Didion Quote “We tell ourselves stories in order to live”

In this episode of the Merkol Podcast, we analyzed the Joan Didion Quote. The quote goes:

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live”

Joan Didion Quote
Joan Didion Quote
Joan Didion Quote

Who is Joan Didion?

The following is made up of excerpts taken from Wikipedia, Bookstr, and Bustle.

Didion was born on December 5, 1934, in Sacramento, California. Didion recalls writing things down as early as the age of five, though she says she never saw herself as a writer until after her work had been published. She identified as a “shy, bookish child” who pushed herself to overcome social anxiety through acting and public speaking.

During her senior year, she won first place in the “Prix de Paris” essay contest sponsored by Vogue and was awarded a job as a research assistant at the magazine. In this Vogue application, the “profile sheet” asked, “What languages do you speak?” Didion responded with “Middle English.”

An interesting fact about her is that she would put her manuscripts in a plastic bag and stick them in the freezer whenever she had writer’s block. Lol! Even Didion gets writer’s block sometimes.

Joan Didion has written multiple stories which are inspired by her own life instances. For example, she began writing The Year of Magical Thinking, a narrative of her response to the death of her husband and the severe illness of their daughter. In 2011, her book ‘Blue Nights’ was published which was a memoir about aging. The book focuses on Didion’s daughter, who died just before The Year of Magical Thinking was published.

An astonishing fact about her daughter’s death is that in 1966, the babysitter Didion hired to watch over her daughter Quintana told her that her daughter had an “aura of death surrounding her”. Quintana passed away on August 26, 2005, at the age of thirty-nine.

Joan Didion is more than just an author; she’s an icon. She is an essayist, novelist, journalist, and everything in between. Didion is one of the most famous authors of all time. Her writing is bold, honest, dry, descriptive-yet-casual; she can make anything relatable, interesting, and easy to understand. She is the Queen of words.

What does this Joan Didion quote mean?

To understand this quote let us first understand the power of stories.

From the early civilizations to the modern man now, there is nothing that binds us together as a community better than stories.

Let me illustrate this further, in the early civilizations, taking care of basic survival necessities took away most of a common man’s day. Towards the end of the day, they all gathered and listened to the elderly people in the village tell stories about the past heroes, gods, etc. Every group grew up hearing these stories and these got passed down the generations with slight modifications made to them.

As it got passed down the generations, the stories became myths. People who belonged to the same group believed and followed the same beliefs as what the stories taught them. People who did not like the stories told to them often were scared to oppose them for not the fear of being banished by their community but for the fear of a lack of alternate communities to be a part of if they did get banished.

Fast forward to today’s world, we are shaped by stories that are present all around us. Advertising is nothing but storytelling at its finest. What do Nike, Adidas, Tesla all mean? Each one will have a different answer to this question because they never told them to you, their ads allow you to form stories in your brain and how strongly you feel/ connect with that story will determine how intense of an advocate you are for that brand.

Storytelling in the earlier days
Storytelling in the earlier days. Credits: Polyphonic World

Stories move the stock price of all the companies, stories make you buy products of a certain brand, stories make you die-hard fans of a concept, person, or place, stories even make you fall in love.

In terms of communities, each community believes a story. People who believe in bitcoin are part of one community. People who believe/follow manchester united are part of a community. They find like-minded people and choose to follow them. The stories/opinions that the community believes will form your opinions.

The reason why there is so much varied opinion among people is that in today’s digital world, disagreeing/getting banished from one community is not that scary as the next community is just one click away on Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, etc. So people are free to form their opinions and express them fearlessly.

So far we have understood how stories shape us and the world around us. We have looked at the macro aspects, now let us look at the micro aspects.

The external stories bind us into communities, make us believe in something, but what are the stories that we tell ourselves.

No none would want to work on anything, build anything if they knew that what they were doing is going to be a huge waste of time. In order to overcome these, we need to motivate ourselves. Every time we tell ourselves, tomorrow will be a big day, this idea/business will be a huge success, etc, we are telling ourselves a story.

No one knows if that is how something is going to turn out. But we choose to believe that because we do not have a better alternative at that point in time to look forward to.

The fact of life is that we are born alone and we die alone and the world drops a lot of shit in between for us to forget that fact. No one would want to live if you sold him life this way so you need different stories and as Joan Didion puts it, these are the stories that we tell ourselves in order to live.


Joan Didion is a fine writer and her thoughts are very profound. She resonated with people through stories and you can too. Read about other well-established people in your field and find out what chord they did strike with people, fans, colleagues, and learn them.

Somewhere along the line, those might come in handy when you are building something you love. Well, what do I know, this might be just the story you need to tell yourself in order to live. *wink*


I have recorded a podcast on this Joan Didion Quote. But it is in Tamil. If you know the language, then please do listen to this. Do let me know if you like it. Here is the link:

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