John Steinbeck On Writing
It’s The Grapes of Wrath week! A week dedicated to angry grapes? Yes!
I have so much to say about The Grapes of Wrath, I thought I’d dedicate this whole week to nothing but posts related to the novel. It’s all The Grapes of Wrath, all the time.
Today, I thought I’d start with a repost. I’m not on vacation or anything. All of the posts this week will be brand new, but this post is relevant enough to The Grapes of Wrath I thought it was worthy to post again. The original post was on March 7, 2012.
John Steinbeck’s Six Writing Rules
We’ve talked about the writing rules of famous authors on this blog before. Most of you know about Jonathan Franzen’s 10 rules, but we’ve also looked at the writing guidelines of George Orwell and Margaret Atwood.
Today, let’s take a look at John Steinbeck’s 6 writing rules, published recently by The Paris Review:
- 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.
I love these tips. I think Steinbeck’s tips are more practical than any I’ve posted on 101 Books. And, really, other than #6, you can apply all of these pointers to nonfiction as well. I think that’s why they struck a chord with me.
I can’t tell you how true I’ve found #2 to be. You’ve just got to get it all down on paper and worry about cleaning up the crap later. Usually, the good stuff doesn’t come out until you’ve been plugging away for awhile.
And, #3, this is one I still struggle with. As writers, we want people to like what we write. We want approval. But you can’t please everyone. Someone might even call your blog “the death of art and meaning.” It’s happened. So I love the idea of dropkicking those negative voices out of your head and writing for one person.
And, last, even though I don’t write fiction, #6 seems to be so true. That’s why I found William Gibson’s dialogue in Neuromancer so stilted. No one talks that way. And Gibson wasn’t even being ironic. It’s just bad dialogue.
Any of these tips hit home for you?