We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to be less lonesome.
One of our ancient methods is to tell a story
Begging the listener to say – and to feel –
“Yes, that’s the way it is, or at least the way I feel it.
You’re not as alone as you thought.”
Here’s a little story about the art of writing your way into the work of being a writer.
In 2010, Bruce and I took a three-week, driving trip around Northern California. A highlight of the trip was our visit to the city of Salinas, the stomping ground of John Steinbeck. I’ve always been a huge fan of Steinbeck’s writing – right, who hasn’t? We enjoyed several hours at the National Steinbeck Center gaining insight into the personality of the author who wrote such famous works as, Of Mice and Men and Grapes of Wrath.
Later, in the gift shop, I bought a book entitled Steinbeck: A Life in Letters edited by Elaine Steinbeck and Robert Wallsten (1975). This book is a compilation of personal letters written by Steinbeck over a forty-five year period of his life – the first letter when he was barely twenty-one and the last written just a few months before his death at age sixty-six. I’ve always found other peoples’ personal correspondence fascinating. Take note close friends and family – keep those personal papers under lock and key! People come alive in the letters they write. These Steinbeck letters are special because the editors decided the main criteria for inclusion should be that the letter in question was interesting.
I learned some valuable things about Steinbeck’s approach to writing while reading his letters. He started each writing day with personal correspondence and he sent out an average of five to six letters per day. It is within this letter writing that he explored who he was as a writer, he laid bare his pride and confidence in equal doses with his insecurities and his failures. His letters vibrate with life as lived in the moment and reflected on within moments of living.
In the early days of Steinbeck’s career he struggled financially and he handwrote most of his manuscripts on the blank back pages of used accounting ledgers he obtained from his father. He kept up the habit even when he could afford to drop it. He used a new accounting journal for each work. He handwrote the first draft of the novel on one side of the page and wrote his reflections and notes, as he went, on the other. He always wrote a novel with one particular reader in mind and often gifted the original draft, written in the accounting journal, to that person when the book was published. Can you imagine how it felt knowing that Steinbeck wrote a book thinking of you and then gave you the original, hand-written copy. Wow!
Steinbeck wrote his way into writing every day. He kept an ongoing, reflective dialogue right alongside of his fiction writing and he wrote always for a specific person. I think of John Steinbeck now every time I “warm-up” in front of the computer screen. What I used to call spinning my wheels is now writing my way into writing.
Write – do it first – do it every day – just do it. Let your fingers fly across the keys creating words. Let your thoughts be formed as you write. We learn that we have something of value to share through the process of writing it down. We write our way into being writers.
Personal disclaimer – this is one of the first posts I wrote for my blog. Busy with summer fun, I had hoped to simply reblog it. No such luck. I know I have honed my skills because writing done two years ago definitely needed a touch up or two or three for presentation today.