Sunday, April 29

6 Rules of Writing from John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck and his six rules of writing

I love reading the writing advice of great writers. I hardly ever follow it, but still ...

Here are John Steinbeck's six rules of writing:
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.
For myself, I am constitutionally unable to keep from revising as I go, but find it interesting, enlightening even, that nearly every professional writer, blogger, etc., I've ever read on this subject has expressed the sentiment in (3) -- write for one particular person. It can be an idealized person or it can be a real person, but write to someone.

Rule number six I am definitely going to try!

Cheers. Take care and thanks for reading. :-)

- The six rules I list are taken from Maria Popova's marvelous article, "Six Tips on Writing from John Steinbeck".
- I just came across this article: George Orwell's 5 Rules for Effective Writing.

"6 Rules of Writing from John Steinbeck" copyright© 2012 by Karen Woodward.


  1. Writing methods vary.

    Stuart Woods said that his daily routine is 1) read yesterday's output, 2) edit yesterday's output, and 3) write today's work.

    Heinlein's rule was never rewrite except to editorial direction.

  2. And good rules those are too! Myself, I find I'm (bizarrely) freshest when I first wake up, even before I've had my coffee. If I can just sit down at my computer and write that's when I get the most done. Later in the day I can edit.

    There are probably twice as many writing methods as there are writers, though I find the subject endlessly interesting.

    Thanks for the comment!


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