John Steinbeck, tips, writing and life

I love it when authors offer advice to fellow authors on writing. Sharing knowledge is generous and inspiring in any profession. It gives those that aspire hope. Particularly interesting is discovering how a lot of advice for writers is also life advice. As wonderful as it is to have hints pertaining to our work, I thoroughly enjoy having those hints apply generally. It gives us the feeling we are not alone no matter our choices.  I had fun trying to put that spin on this post.

Not so long ago I read some tips by John Steinbeck. Not able to trace the original publication I googled and consequently came across the following in an online publication called The Atlantic. This particularly article was written by Maria Popova in 2012 but I am aware these 6 tips have been discussed in a variety of other publications. However, I chose this article because it featured this quote by Steinbeck on receiving  the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962:

“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.”

I loved his words because they are down-to-earth; they are a practical approach and reflection on our creations. Even when we have worthwhile ideas the execution can let us down. Remembering the goal is to reach the reader is what ensures we strive to do better each time and in whatever genre we choose as our own.  When I read his tips, I found they had a life spin as much as a writing one. Consequently, I decided on two things. I would add the Picasso quote and I would add my own reactions to each hint.  His simple approach had me reflecting on my processes and helped me realise how closely related they are to our lives in general (hence the decision to add Picasso’s words). We may thrive on differences as a people, but it is the similarities that draw us together.

John Steinbeck’s 6 Writing Tips

  1. In this first one he tells us to abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Instead, he adds, writing one page a day helps because then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.

My reaction: I have been so focussed on the end, that I am now stalled, stuck perhaps. I need it finished. He’s right. It seems we focus so much on results we make our lives miserable and can miss the good stuff.

2. 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.

My reaction: I hated this one because it explained my stalling further. I was spending time rewriting as an excuse not to go on because it was too hard. Darn but he was right. Avoidance techniques apply in all walks of life, don’t they?

3. This one intrigued me:  Forget your generalised audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theatre, 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.

My reaction: I can’t pick one person, can’t find that single reader. As a comment on life, I guess it might reflect on the people we choose to be around us. What do you think about this 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.

My reaction:  This is really good advice.  If we get bogged down in regrets, we never move on. It was a mistake for whatever reason, and we can’t fix it but we can avoid doing it again.

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.

My reaction:  I have to admit to not quite understanding this one. I understand to be wary if there is an attachment. Emotion will cloud the value or purpose of a scene. Distance is important for clarity. How do we apply this to life? We lose sight of common sense, perhaps when overly attached?

 6. If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.

My reaction: Absolutely true and even then, we miss things. I guess saying things aloud equates to taking care with our spoken words – maybe think before we speak?

A quick word

N.B. Steinbeck commented on his own tips with the following: ‘I know that no two people have the same methods. However, these mostly work for me.’   

My reaction: Writing reflects life so I guess it so it comes as no surprise that advice on writing can also apply to life.

Until next time,


Questions for me? Want to share your views and ideas? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment and I will get back to you.

Follow or connect with me at:

Twitter          Facebook          Instagram

Posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , .


  1. Great advice Barb – Thank you for sharing. My biggest issue is the temptation to edit as I write. It really does disrupt the flow. When I start doing it I end up writing in circles and waste so much time. Write a first draft without thinking THEN edit. Golden rule.

    • I plan on doing another edit of my first book because of that. I didn’t leave it alone. The second book has been a turning point where I can see the difference.

  2. Thank you for sharing this, Barbara, along with your reactions to each of Steinbeck’s tips. I think I agreed with your reactions right down the line. I, too, am stuck. I need to just get on with it and, if I’m lucky, one day I’ll be surprised when the novel is finished!

  3. Great advices! I am not a writer but even when I write my blog I got stalled and just stopped writting completely. #1 stands out to me. If I just start writing little bit, then it’s easier to keep it going.

  4. Pingback: Quotes from David Ogilvy, practicality, and life - Barbara Strickland - Author & Blogger

I would love you to leave a reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.