Six tips from John Steinbeck for writing a novel

Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, John Steinbeck is one of the giants of American literature. In 1962, he wrote to his friend Robert Wallsten and gave him six valuable tips for writing a novel.

This letter belongs to the Steinbeck compilation: A Life in Letters, a work published in 1975 by Elaine Steinbeck and Robert Wallsten. You can also find it in a compilation produced by the American literary review The Paris Review.

Forget the end result

Give up hope of one day finishing your novel. Forget the planned 400 pages and write only one per day; it helps.


Write in one go

Write as quickly and freely as possible and layer everything on the paper. Don’t fix anything, don’t rewrite anything until it’s all over. Rewriting along the way is often an excuse we give ourselves not to move forward. It also disrupts the rhythm and the fluidity that arise only from unconscious intimacy with the subject. If you need help regarding this so you have to contact professional ghostwriter and consult with them.


Write for one person

Forget your readership. On the one hand because this nameless and faceless audience is terrifying, and on the other hand because in writing, unlike in theater, this audience does not exist. Your audience is a unique reader. Personally, I find it easier to choose a person, real or imagined, and write for them.


In case of difficulty, go ahead

If you can’t come to the end of a scene or passage that you really want to keep, go around it and keep writing. You can come back to it when you’re done, and you might find that the reason you were having trouble with this passage is that it had nothing to do with it.


Prepare to abandon your favorite passages

Beware of a scene that is too expensive in your eyes, more expensive than the rest. Often, it turns out to be too much.


Read your dialogues aloud

If you write a dialogue, read it aloud as you write it. This is only how it will ring true.


A seventh tip: There is no magic recipe!

John Steinbeck was aware that each author had to develop his own method and practice of writing. The author of Raisins de la Anger recalls this in a letter sent to Edith Mirrielees, where he took the creative writing course at Stanford:

If there is magic in the act of writing a story, and I am convinced there is, no one has been able to reduce it to a recipe that could be passed from person to person.


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