Working Days: The Journals of the Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.

See also the pages on the project to write a 50,000-word novel in November - National Novel Writing Month:

Quotes and Notes on Working Days

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.

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.

John Steinbeck

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.

The Grapes of Wrath

Steinbeck worked on The Grapes of Wrath:
  1. Between May 26 (Thursday) and October 26, 1938.
  2. On most weekdays and sometimes on a Saturday.
  3. Starting his warm-up writing between 10 and 11 a.m. most days, through rarely before 10 a.m. and sometimes after 12 noon.
  4. With a goal of 200,000 words in 20 weeks, which broke down into
    a weekly work goal of 10,000 words, or
    a daily work goal of 2 hand-written ledger pages and 2000 words per writing day.
  5. Sometimes adding a review of the day's progress at the end of a writing day.

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:

Other writing work rates

Anthony Trollope (author of The Warden) wrote: