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Journal of a novel: Aug. 9, 2016. The blank page

August 9, 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.

Feb. 13 was John Steinbeck’s second day of getting to work on his novel. In a journal entry, he states

my second work day is a bust as far as getting into the writing. I suffer as always from the fear of putting down the first line.

Ah, that intimidating first page. I will say that I don’t find it that daunting, maybe because I tend not to face a blank page but rather a blank screen, the image of a word processing page. Since I have digital tools, it’s easy to write something, anything, and later delete it, replace it with something finer. Since Steinbeck was writing in pencil on notebook paper, what he set down might have had felt more permanent to him. Besides, when I start work, I almost always have an idea of what I want to write.

Maybe Steinbeck simply had a greater sense than I of the occult power of writing, that the setting down of those first words would put in motion something that could not be undone. Perhaps he understood in a way that I don’t how the first line would chart a course from which he would not be able to stray. That must be it. He tells his editor

I write many thousands of words a day and some of them go on paper. And of those which are written down, only a few are ever meant to be seen.

In this same journal entry, Steinbeck talks about finding “stories I did not know about.” That’s happened to me. While looking for something else, I discovered nine chapters of a novel that I didn’t remember writing. Nine chapters!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. aleshaescobar permalink
    August 9, 2016 3:12 pm

    Indeed, the first line is powerful! But that’s one of the attractive things about writing, not knowing exactly what will be put down on the page 🙂


    • August 9, 2016 3:45 pm

      As I become more aware of everyday magic, I’ll be treading more carefully in situations like this. Because who knows what will be unleashed by the first line of a new work.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. August 19, 2016 4:38 pm

    Get it down and then get it fixed if it’s not ‘right’ :-o)


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