Friday, 3 June 2011

THE EAST OF EDEN LETTERS: JOURNAL OF A NOVEL by John Steinbeck


Every day before he began work on his novel EAST OF EDEN, John Steinbeck wrote a letter for his editor and friend Pascal Covici. These were never really intended to be read by Covici, but instead functioned as a warm-up for Steinbeck's day's writing, in which he ruminated about his ideas for the book, and his process in writing it.

The book is thus an interesting insight into the working methods of an experienced author. Aspiring novelists, give in to despair right now: he routinely cracked out 1500 words a day, and considered this a leisurely pace.

There are lots of interesting and entertaining observations. Regarding having his book read by his editor:

I am never shy about it when a professional is doing the reading. But God save me from amateurs. They don't know what they are reading but it is much more serious than that. They immediately start writing. I never knew this fail. It is invariable. For that matter, I think I dislike amateurs in any field. They have the authority of ignorance and that is something you simply cannot combat
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Or, regarding his original plan, to have every second chapter be more philosophical than plot based:

Such readers as only like plot and dialogue can then skip every other chapter and meanwhile I can take time for thought, comment, observation, criticism, and if it should seem a good thing to throw it out, I can do that too.

I often skip or skim boring bits in books, and I am pleased so great an authority as John Steinbeck clearly operates on this principle on occasion too.

Anyone who has ever written a diary knows how maudlin anything we write just for ourselves can be, and the letters are frequently of this nature, with moaning about DIY and needing to go to the toilet. This can sometimes be dull to trudge through, but was also I found curiously compelling. You do not often get a day-to-day account of someone's year, and this made me feel strange close to the writer, and to his period.

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