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Journal of a novel: Aug. 5, 2016. Audience

August 5, 2016

In a series of posts,  I’ll share both Steinbeck’s Journal of a Novel and what I learn from it, and I’ll show you what the writing life is like for me.

John Steinbeck began his Journal of a Novel on January 29, 1951. In his first entry he tells his editor that he will “start my book addressed to my boys.” (John and Thomas, then young children, lived with Steinbeck’s ex-wife.)

To whom do I “address” my writing? I wondered. I don’t believe there’s any one person, but I do feel as though I am telling a story to an audience. That audience consists of family, friends, the people I connect with on Facebook, through this blog, and through my e-newsletter. They’re in the front rows; I can see their faces. In the back rows are the people who follow me and my writing anonymously. I can’t describe what they look like but I know they’re there. They make their presence felt when I discover that someone bought a copy of one of my books.

Steinbeck’s comment made me curious, as to whether addressing a work to one particular person would affect the writing, and if so, in what way? In the future, I’ll experiment with that.

In the same journal entry, Steinbeck remarks, “I think perhaps it is the only book I have ever written.” Of course, since he already had dozens of titles to his name by this point in his career, this wasn’t precisely true. I’m guessing this is Steinbeck’s way of expressing how different East of Eden was going to be from his other writing, or perhaps that this was going to be his best work. He does state that “This book will be the most difficult of all I have ever attempted.” He sounds almost intimidated by the goal that he’s set for himself, as if he has doubts that he’ll be able to pull this off.

I certainly don’t feel that I have only one book in me, or that some future book will eclipse all the others that I have written. I have enough ideas to keep me writing for years (decades?) to come, and new ideas pop up every day. While I learn something with each new project (and, I’m told, get better every time), I don’t feel the need to go back and revise previous work. It’s what I had to say then. I’m as pleased with my first as I am with my latest.

Like Steinbeck, I did try something different with The Redoubt. I remember wondering if it was going to come out the way I planned, but questioning didn’t stop me from trying, not for a nanosecond. The only way to know if was going to work would be to write it and see how it sounded. I like how it came out. It solved a problem that I had with continuing The Bewildering Adventures of King Bewilliam series, all of which is told from King Bewilliam’s point of view. Other characters had been lobbying for a chance to express themselves, make their voices heard. I didn’t want to switch viewpoints in the middle of a series. Giving each a chance to tell his or her story scratched that itch. They’ve all settled down and gone back to being content with their supporting roles.

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