John Steinbeck, The Atlantic Monthly,, jon patrick sage, jon sage, the best writer in American history, john ernst steinbeck

Steinbeck: He’s Always Been The Best…

I have begun what will be my first and hopefully greatest work. That’s right, I’m joining the throngs of “writers” out there, and am penning my own masterpiece- my first Novel. I’m a little over halfway done with a first draft according to input from a couple of my editor friends, and that’s exciting! But, I have been trying lately, perhaps a bit to much, to try and “turn the story” towards it’s ending. As a result, I’ve been struggling a bit with 500 words a day or maybe a sentence re-work here and there, and my process has slowed over the last week. I think that SOME editing along the way might be helpful to keep the story on some kind of pathway. Others, including Steinbeck, say to just write and then edit when it’s time to edit. And really, who am I to argue with the likes of Steinbeck? The man was an expert writer and my literary hero!

He gives us 6 tips for writing and number 2 says to “write freely” and edit later… Well, maybe I should try that. Still, I’m a little bit of a grammar Nazi, and when something isn’t correct, I feel the need to go back and correct it! I’ll do my best to try and get past that.

Steinbeck’s last comment, number 6, HAS helped me tremendously. I have always felt insufficient when writing dialogue… some element of it eludes me. But, I can talk… so why can’t I “write talking?” I finally figured out that the reason I like Steinbeck so much is that he is what I have always called a “conversational” writer. I mean that to say that whether the words on the paper are conveying dialogue or prose- they are able to be “heard” in a real way… in a conversational way. I suppose the reason for this is that he must have followed his own advice, and spoke aloud while writing dialogue. I would wager that he did some of the same in every aspect. I find myself mouthing the words to just about everything as the keys click away, and if my lips stumble at something… then I know that it’s NOT conversational. If I stumble, it’s awkward.

I’ve often wondered about the differences between Steinbeck and Hemingway. One of my best friends claimed that Hemingway was by far the prize of American literature… but then again- that friend was not even remotely a writer- and barely a reader! I imagine that his opinion came from whichever of the two appeared the more cosmopolitan, and that answer would have to be Hemingway. But, cosmopolitan and the “prize of American literature” might be two very different things.

I read somewhere that Hemingway’s flavor was more global, and Steinbeck was perhaps more or less centered around the people, if not ideal, of our American nation. I’m not sure that this is necessarily true, although I would say that IF Hemingway was better received around the world, it could be a matter of his usage of the language. His was certainly more continental than was Steinbeck, who at times might have been mistaken for one of his characters, flying under the radar, and using regional dialects to do it. Hemingway, on the other hand, was at the forefront, and flew high… being critiqued by everyone. He was a betting man, a boxer, and because of it had to speak in the same manner- in a strong and proper manner which commands respect.

So, what do we want, and what am I after? A European and global acceptance and the fame that goes along with it… or the gentle flow of thoughtful prose which imparts an experience, however mundane, through the written word?

I’ll let you all, the audience, ultimately be the judge- but I can guess which camp Steinbeck chose, and why it is that I choose to emulate him.

Enjoy your words everyone, whether they be written or read!

The article I referenced, about the 6 tips for writing from Steinbeck, appeared at , and follows next:

“6 Writing Tips From John Steinbeck


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The legendary author explains why you should abandon all hope of finishing your novel.

John Steinbeck, The Atlantic Monthly,, jon patrick sage, jon sage, the best writer in American history, john ernst steinbeck

If this is indeed the year of reading more and writing better, we’ve been right on course with David Ogilvy’s 10 no-bullshit tips, Henry Miller’s 11 commandments, and various invaluable advice from other great writers. Now comes John Steinbeck—Pulitzer Prize-winner, Nobel laureate, love guru—with six tips on writing, culled from his altogether excellent interview it the Fall 1975 issue of The Paris Review.

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.
But perhaps most paradoxically yet poetically, 12 years prior—in 1963, immediately after receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception”—Steinbeck issued a thoughtful disclaimer to all such advice:

“If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it. You must perceive the excellence that makes a good story good or the errors that makes a bad story. For a bad story is only an ineffective story.”

If you feel bold enough to discount Steinbeck’s anti-advice advice, you can do so with these 9 essential books on more and writing. Find more such gems in this collection of priceless interviews with literary icons from half a century of The Paris Review archives.