March 12, 2012

Steinbeck on Writing

John Steinbeck - author of The Grapes of Wrath and many other novels, Pulitzer Prize winner & Nobel laureate, gave advice on writing in an interview in the Fall 1975 issue of The Paris Review. Although he was talking more about fiction writing, some of the advice holds up for the kind of writing we ask students to do.

For example, learning when to put an idea aside, being a tough self-edit and just writing the page without dwelling on the entire paper are all important things to learn. Reading your paper aloud (not just for dialogue) is something we ask students to do in all our sessions in the Writing Center with our consultants.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.

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