Friday, June 1, 2012


John Steinbeck

Apologies for the delay in posting I have been in the midst of an existential angst. OK so I am lying, work has gone mad but I have been having a bit of a moment of clarity that then lead to a bit of a dip in confidence.

I was reading this post on Letters of Note, a letter that John Steinbeck sent to his creative writing tutor at University. These following paragraphs, referring to short story writing, suddenly made alarms go off in my head.

“The basic rule you gave us was simple and heartbreaking. A story to be effective had to convey something from writer to reader and the power of its offering was the measure of its excellence. Outside of that, you said, there were no rules. A story could be about anything and could use any means and technique at all—so long as it was effective.

As a subhead to this rule, you maintained that it seemed to be necessary for the writer to know what he wanted to say, in short, what he was talking about. As an exercise we were to try reducing the meat of a story to one sentence, for only then could we know it well enough to enlarge it to three or six or ten thousand words.”

Although this refers to short story writing it can apply to all writing. I’ve read this rule before, in many different forms, but this time was different. Instead of understanding it intellectually, I suddenly understood it emotionally. Something had always niggled me about ‘The Stone Voice’, that fact that I could never explain it in one sentence. And here was why, I didn’t know or didn’t want to choose what the story was REALLY about. Leaving the story a bit fluffy round the edges, unfocused and lacking meat.

This is all great, fantastic. More work but great. Or not… because actually I still don’t know what I want the story to be about. I’ve put the story in a virtual drawer for the moment and working on other things. Interestingly I have managed to distil the next story down to one sentence…

Onwards and upwards!

Come back on Sunday to hear from Susanna