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Six Writing Tips from John Steinbeck

Six Writing Tips from John Steinbeck

While John Steinbeck is best known for his works of fiction, he also wrote countless journal entries and letters over the course of his lifetime.

Today, they give readers an intimate glimpse into his writing process.

I found this list of six writing tips while reading Steinbeck: A Life in Letters a few years ago, and immediately copied the passage into my journal. I find myself returning to his advice again and again.

Writing Advice from John Steinbeck

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, 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 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 the reason it gave you trouble is because it didn't belong there.

5. Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you; dearer than the rest.

6. If you are using dialogue, say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech."

If you find these tips helpful, you'll also love Steinbeck's Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters.

Photo of hand courtesy of Dave King and used under a Creative Commons license.


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