Here is the link to the interview I did for the Missouri Review’s Working Writers Series. It was a fun interview, and we talked about a lot. Read on.
Elmore Leonard passed away today at the age of 87. I’ve never actually read any of his work, but I have seen some of the films from which his stories were adapted. This article talks about his rules for writing fiction. I admit I don’t follow all these writers’ articles that talk about their rules, and if I ever write my own, The last one would be ‘never follow rules’.
However, I always read these things because they do lend you some perspective on when to exercise restraint, and when to try some of the things the writers talk about in their rules. Humor yourself. Read them. I don’t like all of them, but, I read them anyway. Everything is a lesson.
“I really don’t think I’m alone among writers in caring about what they experienced in the first eighteen years of their life. Hemingway cherished the Michigan stories out of proportion, I would think, to their merit. Look at Twain. Look at Joyce. Nothing that happens to us after twenty is as free from self-consciousness because by then we have the vocation to write. Writers’ lives break into two halves. At the point where you get your writerly vocation you diminish your receptivity to experience. Being able to write becomes a kind of shield, a way of hiding, a way of too instantly transforming pain into honey—whereas when you’re young, you’re so impotent you cannot help but strive and observe and feel.”
John Steinbeck’s Tips via Aeorgramme’s Writers’ Studio
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.
These tips were included in a letter Steinbeck wrote to a friend and were published in the Fall 1975 issue of The Paris Review.
About John Steinbeck John Steinbeck (1902-1968), winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, achieved popular success in 1935 when he published Tortilla Flat. He went on to write more than twenty-five novels, including The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men.
Watch Steinbeck’s 1962 Nobel Prize acceptance speech.
“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
“Do not fear mistakes. There are none.”
That’s one of those great inspirational quotes. I had a good day of writing and I thought this was a good thing to sum up some of the things I meshed together today. Some of the work I thought had no purpose, just another draft on some night that got saved and waited to find a place somewhere.