Do you Want to Start #Writing Like #Steinbeck?

John Steinbeck Photo,A.k. Andrew,,A Writers Notebook

John Steinbeck 1962


This week marks the 75th anniversary of the the film release of Grapes of Wrath so I thought it was appropriate to re-purpose this post. If you want to start writing like Steinbeck, then take a look at some of the things he found important and include them in your writing.
 “Learn from the best”

John Steinbeck’s writing methodology was stringent and meticulous. When writer’s you love talk about how they write, it’s hard not listen.

Steinbeck really wanted Grapes of Wrath to be good  – exposing the exploitation of people in 1930’s Southern California, was a story he thought needed telling. I re-read the novel a while ago, and the style blew me away.

It’s incredibly refreshing to read a book with such valuable social commentary that’s also just a damn good story. Part of its success lies in the fact that we live, eat and sleep with the Joad family. Everything is personal, so we care about what happens to the characters, and it allows us to see the injustice very clearly, without the point being hammered home. Steinbeck simply tells a story.

Below is part of John Steinbeck’s interview in the Paris Review*

(Please note: Steinbeck died in 1968. A lot of the quotes were compiled in Steinbeck: A Life in Letters and published in October 1975 by Viking. Hence the Paris Review article was not until 1975.)

The comments in italics are mine.

Now let me give you the benefit of my experience in facing 400 pages of blank stock—the appalling stuff that must be filled. I know that no one really wants the benefit of anyone’s experience which is probably why it is so freely offered. But the following are some of the things I have had to do to keep from going nuts.
 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.

This is the most important one & can’t be said too often. One page at a time.

 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.

 Don’t worry about anyone looking over your shoulder. Just get the work written. Good tip for all of us procrastinators.

 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.

I’ve heard this before, and I think it’s an excellent way to keep yourself on track. You can’t write for everyone. So write for 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.

Rewriting – its all there is. But don’t be afraid to write non-sequentially. Sometimes one just isn’t in the mood to write about a dramatic moment, so switch gears and go to a section you do want to write today.

 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.

Tough to give them up isn’t it?

 6. If you are using dialogue

…say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.

Excellent tip. If you read it out loud it will sound strained immediately if it’s not working.

On my writers resources page I refer to his book Working Days, which is the diary he kept while he was writing Grapes of Wrath. (He wrote his first draft in 6 months BTW!). It’s a great book for writers if only to show how persistent one has to be to make the end product worthwhile.

Signature of John Steinbeck,a.k. andrew, a writer's notebook

Signature of John Steinbeck (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are these methods  you can work with? Do you have different ways of attacking the same problems?


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*Paris Review has rich resource material in their decades of interviews of famous people, writers included.

I first saw part of this particular interview in one of my favorite blogs

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Can We Compare Steinbeck’s East of Eden to Breaking Bad?

Trailer of Steinbeck’s East Of Eden

“I remember my childhood names for grasses and secret flowers. I remember where a toad may live and what time the birds awaken in the summer — and what trees and seasons smelled like — how people looked and walked and smelled even. The memory of odors is very rich.” John Steinbeck from East of Eden

Steinbeck is well known for his work Grapes of Wrath, but East of Eden is an incredibly powerful work, which many of you may know more from the film with James Dean that the novel itself. The clip of the movie above, is great because it is of such an era where both the music and the fonts across the screen portray the the film in a very time specific dramatic way. The trailer itself is relying on our senses to make us believe something is a particular way.

Trailing the Senses

Some of you may be familiar with the TV show Breaking Bad that finished it’s final season earlier in 2014. It was anything but a light show. It focused on Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston), a science teacher who starts cooking crack cocaine initially to pay for his medical bills. But his family’s life deteriorates as Walt becomes more and more involved in the violent life of hardcore drug manufacture. Hardly light fare, or full of fields of green, childhood memories.

So back to our title:  Can we compare John Steinbeck’s East of Eden to Breaking Bad? They are both about families, and failures within those families; fathers failing their sons. But that’s not what drew me to look at the two together. What brought me to the comparison of the two films were the two trailers I’ve put in this post, and how we as the audience are manipulated by what we see and hear. Through our senses we draw conclusions.

Here’s another video where the accompanying music completely changes the conclusions we draw about what we see. This trailer is a spoof of Breaking Bad as the serious, violent show it actually is.

Try Breaking Bad as a sitcom

I was stunned by how my perceptions could be manipulated by what I heard – the accompanying laugh track, and happy comedy music intro soundtrack.

The Senses Made Me Do it


As the audience you are drawn in by what writers, and film makers, want you to hear and see. Just as Steinbeck drew on the senses he remembered from his childhood, in this spoof trailer of Breaking Bad, we are seduced by our associations and memories induced by our senses to look at something in a completely new way.

My conclusion is that the works may both have their similarities in terms of family dynamics being integral to the plot, but aside from the trailers, I think that’s where there comparison ends. I touch more on using the senses in writing in my post Savouring Taste Treats: Using the Senses in Writing

What is the strongest sense for you? What memories are the most easily sparked and by which sense?

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#Muse Media: The Past and #John Steinbeck

 Muse Media

Muse Media looks for our muse by mixing prose with other media, in this case by looking at the past with John Steinbeck.  The Woody Guthrie video ‘Talking Dust Bowl Blues’ is quintessential Guthrie.


“How can we live without our lives? How will we know it’s us without our past?”

 John Steinbeck from “Grapes of Wrath


Woody Guthrie’s song gives us an idea of one family’s hard times during the same era of Grapes of Wrath. I like the line at the end which speaks of how his wife had made some potato stew so thin you could read a magazine through it. “If it a been a little thinner some of those politicians could have seen through it.” John Steinbeck’s seminal work brings up a number of social issues.  This particular quotes asks the question of us as individuals.


In what way does the past affect your present life? 

How do you include events from the past in your work, or do you deliberately avoid them?


John Ernst Steinbeck, Jr. (February 27, 1902 – December 20, 1968) was an American writer. He is widely known for the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939) and East of Eden (1952) and the novella Of Mice and Men (1937). As the author of twenty-seven books, including sixteen novels, six non-fiction books and five collections of short stories, Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.

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