Friday, September 18, 2009

First, Throw the Whole
Thing Down on Paper

'Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down.'
--novelist John Steinbeck, whose classic Great Depression-era novel The Grapes of Wrath is garnering renewed interest during this current Great Recession. This is Steinbeck's inaugural mention here.


At 10:57 PM, Blogger Pat Washington said...

I like the way Mr. Steinbeck thinks. As I told a client of mine a few times recently when he was getting frustrated about how to phrase something - just spit it out and I'll clean it up.

At 12:02 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Just spit it out, indeed.

At 2:09 AM, Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

Nope, can't do that. With a poem, yes, I suppose, but anything longer, no. I work in spurts and I edit constantly. I'm also a slow writer constantly going back and rereading the piece to ensure it flows from start to finish. It takes all sort to make a world.

At 4:04 AM, Blogger Mariana Soffer said...

it turns out that great artists choose to constrain themselves all the time. (for example use only a certain topic to write about) Innovation comes from constraint. And most of us aren’t smart enough to know what to do with a blank sheet of paper.

At 7:14 AM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Now this is a quote I can live by. Steinbeck's advice is more the way I work, anyway. (Surprisingly, some things come out already formed, needing little revision. I guess it's practice, and listening.)

I've often told artist friends who get stuck, "Spew first, edit later." It's about not getting into editor's mind TOO soon.

As Jim points out, though, it takes all kinds, and there are lots of styles.

At 8:24 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Great comments, all. I do my share of spewing first and editing later, but my default setting is probably more often like Jim's, with editing as I go. Thanks everyone for wonderfully expanding the initial point.

At 11:31 AM, Anonymous Sherri Henkin said...

Maybe Steinbeck's statement is the basis for Natalie Goldberg's, Writing Down the Bones. Same theme - get the words on paper and then work with them! Thanks, John.

At 11:34 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Steinbeck's approach actually comes from a long lineage of similar writerly approaches. You could also say that Anne Lamott's "just write a sh__y first draft" approach is in the same vein.

At 5:13 PM, Blogger Erin O'Brien said...

I call this monolithic writing. Get the whole chunk out and carve out the piece. I use this when I have tons of material for a story.

Conversely, when I start with a single word or thought and build upon it, I call that "papier-mache" writing because it's like building up a frame.

I use both methods all the time.

And oh yeah, all drafts are sh*tty, until one isn't.

At 5:16 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Nicely said, as always, EOB (not to be confused with Rush Limbaugh's EOB network). I agree that not being stuck in any particular framework or method is the best way to go. Just depends on the material, your mood, your timeline, and a thousand other things. But now that you mention it, fiction may lend itself more to one method than the other, no?

Also, how did your keynote presentation go at Lakeland on Saturday? Sure wish I could have been there.

At 2:27 PM, Blogger Erin O'Brien said...

Thanks for asking, John. The presentation went very well. Ah, all that lofty talk, now I am just back at the keyboard with all this not-so-lofty work.

ooh wait! I love this: the word verification for this is "criggy." Now I must come up with a definition.

At 2:34 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Funny how that works, isn't it, Erin? But of course no one would give a damn about what you thought, lofty or otherwise, unless you regularly sat your ass down in the chair and did the work. As the dad memorably put it (in a great story I once heard about a lady who was complaining to her dad about how unromantic her job was) "that's why they call it work."

On the other hand, as my friend Jimmy Kukral's newish tagline has it, "those who work get what they want, those who don't get what they get." So I say be proud of your work ethic. It's made you who you are. The lofty result is what matters.


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