|log of books read|
See also the pages on the project to write a 50,000-word novel in November - National Novel Writing Month:
The best way to learn about writing novels from John Steinbeck (besides reading his novels) is from reading his writing diaries as in Working Days and Journal of a Novel.
in Working Days.
|Learn from this.|
|1||February [7?]||"I'm tired of living completely tired.
I'm tired of the struggle against all the forces that this miserable success has brought me.
I don't know whether I could write a decent book now. ...
So impossible to trust oneself. Even to know what there is to trust. My will is low. I must build my will again. And I can do it even as I have done before. The time passes. The thoughts race."
|2||May 31 - Tuesday.||"I have tried to keep diaries before but they don't work out because of the necessity to be honest. I have seven months to do this book and I should like to take them but I imagine five will be the limit. I have never taken long actually to do the writing."||Long-range plan.|
|3||June 1 - Wednesday.||"Today's project - Joad's walking down the road and meeting with the minister. ...
Casy the preacher must be strongly developed as a thoughtful, well-rounded character. Must show quickly the developing of a questing mind and a developing leadership."
|4||June 2 - Thursday.||"Today the argument against sin and the means of losing it.
This should be a good sharp section. ...
One hundred days of writing will finish this book, I think."
|Both short-range and long-range planning.|
|5||June 3 - Friday.||"Simply can't have people around on work days. ...
I go nuts if not protected from all the outside stuff."
|Protecting the work time.|
|6||June 4 - Saturday.||"Since the next chapter tells of the coming of the tractors and must have a symphonic overtone, and, moreover, may not be more than four or five pages long, it would be just as well to limit the day's work to this chapter."||Planning.|
|8||June 7 - Tuesday.||"Today's work is the overtone of the tractors, the men who run them, the men they displace, the sound of them, the smell of them ... this is the eviction sound and the tonal reason for the movement. ... I am not frightened of this any more. Too much a part of it finally."||Planning.|
|11||June 10 - Friday.||"It must be far and away the best thing I have ever attempted - slow but sure, piling detail on detail until a picture and an experience emerge. Until the whole throbbing thing emerges. And I can do it. I feel very strong to do it. Today for instance into the picture is the evening and the cooking of the rabbits and the discussion of prison and punishment. And the owls and the cat catches a mouse and they sit on the sloping porch. And tomorrow the beginning of the used car yard if I am finished with this scene. Better make this scene three pages instead of two. Because there can never be too much background."||Planning.|
|14||June 14 - Tuesday.||"Yesterday was a bust. I could have forced the work out but I'd lost the flow of the book and it would have been a weak spot."||Motivation.|
|15||June 15 - Wednesday.||"Today used cars, people and methods of selling, and hustle, profits, trades. ... Must be good, general and fierce. ... Must get the sense of cheating in it."||Planning.|
|18||June 18 - Saturday.||"This is a huge job. Mustn't think of its largeness but only the little picture on which I am working. Leave the large picture for planning time."||Short-range versus long-range plan.|
|20||June 20 - Monday.||"The book moves on steadily, forcefully, slowly, and it must continue to move slowly. How I love it."||Process.|
|23||June 23 - Thursday.||"Enter all the rest of my actors. John, Rose of Sharon, Connie and the two little kids. The circle of squatting men and the plans, the order of authority, and the texture of the family. I only expect to crack the surface of this conference today for it is important and should be dealt with at some length."||Planning.|
|28||June 30 - Thursday.||"I have finished in one month Book One, the background of this novel.
One general chapter today and it will be a short one, too.
The empty and deserted houses.
Yesterday the work was short and I went over the whole of the book in my head -
fixed on the last scene, huge and symbolic, toward which the whole story moves. ...
I felt very small and inadequate and incapable but I grew again to love the story which is so much greater than I am To love and admire the people who are so much stronger and purer and braver than I am."
|30||July 6 - Wednesday.||"My people must be more than people.
They must be an over-essence of people.
Critics understand very little. ...
The story grows again. Work is the only good thing."
|Planning and process.|
|37||July 15 - Friday.||"Today I have a leisurely feeling getting into the work whereas yesterday it was one of frantic rush. ... In 16 more [writing] days I'll be half through. And I must get my people to California before then."||Pacing.|
|44||August 1 - Monday.||"I didn't work then [July 25] or all week.
Hope to lose some of the frantic quality in my mind now. It's just like slipping behind at Stanford. Panic sets in. Can't organize. ...
I'm jumpy. ...
Don't know who will publish my book. Don't know at all. No reason to let it slide though. Must keep at it. ...
Wish I could control the jumping jitters though."
|50||August 10 - Wednesday.||"Although I got up early this morning I'm late getting to work and I don't in the least know why. ...
I'm worried about this book. I wish it were done. I'm afraid I'm botching it. I think it would be a good time to stop and think about it but I hate to lost the time. But I want it to be good and I'm afraid it is slipping. But I must remember that it always seems that way when it is well along."
|55||August 19 - Friday.||"Plodding is all right until a day comes when I can't even plod any more. ...
Good luck is even worse for work than bad luck. I have been too fortunate lately. ...
Just have to plod for 90,000 words. Plod as the people are plodding. They aren't rushing. And now to work and the first like in Hooverville."
|Process and planning.|
|57||August 24 - Wednesday.||"Where has my discipline gone? Have I lost control? Quite coldly we'll see today. See whether life comes into the lives and the people move and talk."||Process and planning.|
|60||August 30 - Tuesday.||"I'm having a hell of a time concentrating with so many things going on. ...
I hope this book is some good, but I have less and less hope for it."
|63||September 3 - Saturday.||"Carol is typing [the manuscript] now and the book is beginning to seem real to me. ...
Also Carol got the title last night, 'The Grapes of Wrath.' I think that is a wonderful title. ... The story is having a reality finally. ...
I think I never really believe I will finish a book until it is finished."
|66||September 7 - Wednesday.||"So many things drive me nuts. ... I'm afraid this book is going to pieces. If it does, I do too."||Process.|
|68||September 9 - Friday.||"The noise at the next house is abating. ...
Today, I'm going to have to deal to a large extent with Ma. She hasn't had an exclusive for a long time if ever. And I want to build her up as much as possible. ... I want to show how valuable Ma is to society."
|73||September 16 - Friday.||"Now comes the end of the week and a new general chapter. And this one is all the amusements of the people. The things they do for pleasure. It is a short general. Not over four thousand words. I want all of the things they do. I want this to precede the long chapter of the dance."||Planning.|
|78||September 23 - Friday.||"Yesterday I finished the general chapter on the rotting fruit. Today I must go on. The book is beginning to round out. I think they go to Shafter. I think. I can begin to see the end. But that time jump is bound to give me trouble. "||Planning and process.|
|79||September 26 - Monday.||"This book has become a misery to me because of my inadequacy. Friday I took off to consider my progress, and instead I got caught in all the details of the new ranch." [His recent large purchase.]||Process.|
|86||October 5 - Wednesday.||"It is particularly fine today because the noise next door has stopped at least for the moment.
No cement mixer, or pounding on pipe or things like that. ...
It would be funny if the absence of noise made it hard. It won't. It is delicious this silence. Absolutely delicious. And my story is coming better. I see it better. ...
Ma's crossing with the clerk, and then Tom's going our - meeting Casey - trying to move the men in camp. Arrest and beating. Return in secret. Move. Cotton - flood. And the end - Tom comes back. Stolen things. Must go. Be Around. Birth. And the rising waters. And the starving man. And the end."
|Process and planning.|
|93||October 14 - Friday.||"Yesterday was a good scene. Must repair one part of it.
I'm getting excited now that the end is coming up.
Rather work than not.
I'll be sad when this is done.
But I am glad to finish. ...
The last general must be a summing of the whole thing. Group survival. Yes, I am excited. Almost prayerful that this book is some good. Maybe it is and maybe not."
|96||October 19 - Wednesday.||"Strong reluctance to finish I think. ...
My mind doesn't want to work, hates to work in fact, but I'll make it. I'm on my very last chapter now. The very last. It may be fifteen pages long but I can't help that. It may be twenty. The rain - the birth - the flood - and the barn. The starving man and the last scene has been ready for so long."
|Process and planning.|
|101||October 16, 1939 - Monday||
"It is one year ago less ten days that I finished the draft of the Grapes. ...
This is a year without writing (except for little jobs - mechanical fixings). The longest time I've been in many years without writing. The time has come now for orientation. What has happened and what it has done to me. In the first place the Grapes got really out of hand, became a public hysteria and I became a public domain. I've fought that consistently but I don't know how successfully."
The quotations above are from Steinbeck's writing journal, written during the five months that he created the first draft of The Grapes of Wrath, and later published and annotated as Working Days.
Between May 31 and October 26, 1938, before John Steinbeck began each day's work writing the first draft of The Grapes of Wrath, he warmed up by hand-writing a journal entry. The journal was later published in annotated form as Working Days. It includes a preliminary entry in February 1938.
The Working Days diary show the clarity and convictions of Steinbeck's vision in the structure and strategy of his novel, some of his uncertainties and working out its details, and his frustrations over interference and interruptions by noisy neighbors, as well as his mixed feelings of delight and frustration in being interrupted and entertained by visitors and house guests.
His heavy reliance on his wife, Carol Henning Steinbeck, is clear: she was not only his complete homemaker and hostess of his friends and admirers. She was also his typist, copying his sometimes erratic handwriting, and the person with the insight to propose the title of The Grapes of Wrath.
Published April 14, 1939, The Grapes of Wrath, topped the best-seller list for most of the rest of the year, during which almost half a million copies were sold.
A year after the 100 entries while writing the first draft of The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck returned to the journal with 23 more entries (October 16, 1939 (Monday) to January 30, 1941 (Thursday)).
Working Days are intended for Steinbeck himself, primarily, much as other writers might use free-writing to warm up. As such, they are more interesting in terms of his craft than are the later Journal of a Novel, written 13 years later, between January 29 and November 1, 1951. At that time, Steinbeck was writing East of Eden. Before he began each day's work on the first draft, he warmed up by hand-writing a journal entry addressed to his close friend and editor, Pascal Covici. A selection of the letters was later published as Journal of a Novel. Excerpts are in the day-by-day status of 2005 November novel project.
His first entry was in February 1938 (shortly before his 36th birthday on February 27). On May 31 (Tuesday and the fourth working day of his novel assuming he did not work on the weekend), Steinbeck resumed his writing journal that was to become Working Days. With the addition of the February entry and the omission of an entry for the final day of writing, there are 100 entries in Working Days, one for almost all of the actual days of writing, plus a few for days of no work (a Sunday here, a hung-over Monday there).
Steinbeck's notes appear much briefer than those in Journal of a Novel.
Steinbeck succeeded in his plan to create a "truly American book", by developing The Grapes of Wrath (according to Robert DeMott's "Preface") with "multiple streams of subjective experience, ameliorism [sic], graphic realism, and symbolic form."
It was preceded by related writings:
Anthony Trollope (author of The Warden) wrote:
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