“It seems to be necessary to write things down. Can’t stop it.”
John Steinbeck, “Working Days,” Entry #1, February 7, 1938, Monday.
It is a marvelous book, Steinbeck’s “Working Days.” It is not one of the novels – the short, kiss-in-the-dark sweetness of “Of Mice and Men,” nor the sprawling “East of Eden.” Neither is it one of the volume of letters like “Steinbeck: A Life in Letters,” or “Journal of a Novel, the East of Eden Letters.”
It is Steinbeck’s attempt to “map the actual working days and hours of this novel.”
It is a diary of his time spent writing “The Grapes of Wrath.”
And it is, quite simply, an amazing book.
I am very much into discovering and exploring the creative process. I want to see your painting, yes, but I also want to know why precisely that color in precisely that place. I want to see what you did with the lighting scheme for “Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern,” but I also want to know why that green at that moment.
“Working Days,” is an almost daily account of the writing of Grapes. The struggles as to tone and pace, the battles as to timbre and situation. But also, it allows the reader to see how in hell he got the book done given everything else that was going on in his life at that time.
I am not so bold.
But I am just cheeky enough to believe I could do something similar. My Working Daze, however, won’t be as disciplined or as regular. He wrote his as a daily warm up to writing. I, because of my work schedule, no longer write every day. Instead, I write every day I’m off. And my writing time is so limited that if I tried to keep Working Daze constantly up to date, I’d never work on the novel.
So my scope is much more limited than his.
I will try, as best I can, to put down what it’s like to write a novel. I will explore the artistic struggles of tone and timbre, pace and plot. In short, I will navel gaze with the intensity of someone who is self-involved to the nth degree when it comes to his writing.
I already know, to a degree, what’s coming. I’ve written books before and there will be days where I am nothing short of the single best writer what ever walked the planet. And there will be days where I want to throw the computer out the window and take up knitting.
Maybe it’ll fun and maybe it’ll suck, but I’m gonna give it a whirl and see what happens. The trick, of course, is to explore the writing of the book without giving the book away. Hell, if I put it all down in the journal, there would never be any reason for you to go plunk down $25 for it, would there?
The book, by the by, is the second in a brand new series centering on a female sheriff’s deputy. In book one, we see her at the beginning of her career. I mean the very beginning – day one – and we go from there. The first book is called “Slow Bleed” and you haven’t seen or heard of it yet because I only finished it a few months ago and am waiting for my agent to read it. After him, hopefully, publishers. After that, hopefully, enough sales to fund a two-month trip to St. Thomas.
Steinbeck said something else in that initial entry back in ’38. He wrote, “I don’t know whether I could write a decent book now. That is the greatest fear of all. I am working at it but I can’t tell.”
It is the greatest fear of us all. So we’ll see what happens. And do, please, post your comments. I’d love to know how you do things, how you explore your creativity.
And what your favorite Steinbeck book is.