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.
ON GETTING STARTED
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.
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 www.brainpickings.org