John Steinbeck’s Six Tips for Aspiring Writers

1 August 2013 — 9 Comments

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.

These tips were included in a letter Steinbeck wrote to a friend and were published in the Fall 1975 issue of The Paris Review.

About John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck (1902-1968), winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, achieved popular success in 1935 when he published Tortilla Flat. He went on to write more than twenty-five novels, including The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men.

Watch Steinbeck’s 1962 Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

 


9 responses to John Steinbeck’s Six Tips for Aspiring Writers

  1. Some good advice in here, although I find it difficult not to correct as I go along. It’s a very big job if you leave all editing till the end of the book, but perhaps I should try it. Having someone in mind as you write really helps, too. Thanks for the tips!

  2. I agree. It’s hard to just let go and write. I ALWAYS want to go back and reread to correct. *sigh* Fantastic guidelines from a master. 🙂

  3. I love the idea of selective writing towards an audience of “one” instead of imagining writing to a genre. Thanks Mr. Steinbeck! 😀

  4. Morgan Fisher 6 August 2013 at 1:06 pm

    Reading text aloud even works with simple emails, you spot more errors or omissions that way.

  5. Good, practical advice. I also have a tendency to edit as I go. How I got over that was to enter NaNoWriMo last November. To keep up with the daily word count, I just HAD to write, write, write every day. I found the story really flowed…so much better. At the end of the month, I took my 60,000 word first draft and applied the same enthusiasm to editing it through several drafts. The resultant novel gives me great satisfaction and my loyal readers say it is ‘my best yet.’ Worked for me. Wonder what Mr Steinbeck would make of NaNoWriMo!

  6. #5 what does “out of drawing” mean?

    • Happy to be corrected but I understand it to be a term more commonly used in the visual arts, meaning out of place or not belonging.

  7. Wow!! So nice of Steinbeck to come online and give us tips!

  8. For your sake, I hope you’re joking.

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