Steinbeck on Writing
Oddly enough, I was never made to read John Steinbeck in high school that I recall. I may have read an abridged version of Of Mice and Men at some point, but I didn’t read his other books until much later in my life, when I gobbled many of them up with great relish. If you haven’t read East of Eden or The Grapes of Wrath, do yourself a favor by walking away from the glowing screen and my inane ramblings and picking them up from the library or bookstore for immediate consumption.
It’s been years since I’ve read Steinbeck, but he recently came to my attention again when the curator of the Brain Pickings blog published a list of his writing tips as part of a series of such posts. I’ll reproduce the list here, but you should visit the Brain Pickings article, which links to related posts with tips from other important authors.
- Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
- Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
- Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.
- If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.
- Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.
- If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.
These seem very useful tips in general, and several play pretty nicely with the idea I proposed a few weeks ago that sometimes it might be best to abandon (at least for now) something that’s giving you fits to get down in print.
How do Steinbeck’s tips strike you?
Note: I’m out of town this week and won’t be around to respond to any comments. I hope you’ll carry on as usual without me!