There are few authors that I love more than John Steinbeck. The moment I started reading East of Eden I knew that I had something big in my hand, this book was about everything, and so it is. I’ve read it through three times now, I’m going to do so again this year, maybe over the summer. I finished it last winter, after I’d already given up on updating this blog, but it took longer to read through Journal. On average it takes me three months to read East of Eden. It took four to read Journal of a Novel, mostly because I piddle farted around.
For those that don’t know the story of the book – in order to get himself into a writing frame of mind Steinbeck would write a letter to his editor. Every working day, a few words or a few paragraphs, he would write down a letter on the opposite pages of his manuscript and send them on to Pat. As a young writer, who likes to think he is working on his first novel, it has quite a few lessons to it.
First, and I can’t stress this enough, I was so excited about the asinine attention to detail that Steinbeck paid to his pencils. He paid attention to the type, the feel, right down to when they got to the nubs and stopped using them. In this world where I have been so particular that I refused to stop writing because I couldn’t find the right pen (and because I have no discipline) it was a boon to me. Hearing all the bitching about how he didn’t feel like writing on a particular day, but that he still did, these are things worth reading.
I’ve believed that meeting your heroes is about the worst thing you can do with them, because they will only disappoint you. This is still probably true, but getting to take a look behind the curtain of one of my favorite novels was great and it gives me the courage to keep going. If you aren’t a big Steinbeck fan, or interested in seeing the author suffer, then steer clear, because the romanticism of the writer life gets washed away. If you get bored listening to your friends constantly describe their work life because they’ve even told you the interesting bits a half dozen times already – and the uninteresting bits a dozen times more – this will be an experience much like that
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