Sage Advice from Steinbeck

In a letter to his friend, fellow writer Robert Wallsten, John Steinbeck included some writing advice that I read many years ago and ever since then that advice has been part of my own writing process.

One piece of advice he gave was to:

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.”

In general writers tend to dread first drafts because for some the stakes are too high every time (their identity as writers!) but I’ve learnt to love first drafts because, since I know I’m going to cut or rewrite most of it anyway, my focus is more on the amount of words rather than their quality. I think Steinbeck is right to say that when you suspend any judgement upon your writing until after the draft is done you relate to the words differently and out of that relationship comes more natural writing.

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