A few weeks ago I was on vacation with my wife in San Francisco. While we were there, we decided to take a trip to Monterey. This picturesque coastal town is known for its beauty. What I didn’t know is Monterey is also known for attracting artists—both painters and writers. Yet, when I am on vacation I try to get away from writing too. I couldn’t escape it here. I guess I didn’t do my research. John Steinbeck, one of the most influential writers of our time and author of The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, East of Eden, and so much more lived and worked in Monterey.
As we strolled down Cannery Row looking for a restaurant, banners bearing Steinbeck’s image and name hung along the main streets near the bay. As I gazed at the bay from the rocky shore, the inspiration to write again tugged at my soul.
When I returned to my hotel room overlooking the bay, I pulled out my iPad to craft a few lines. Ironically, I noticed an email from a website that quoted seven famous writers. Who was quoted first? Yep, John Steinbeck.
I read the quote a time or two and let it settle over me. How would it influence me to become a better writer? Hey, I’m on John Steinbeck’s turf. What does he want to say to me? I read the quote again.
“Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.”
I asked myself, how is his perspective about writing different than mine? I realized I am about “finishing” work, feeling as though I have accomplished something. I strive to get writing projects done and then rest before I move on to the next one. For me, it’s about starting, finishing, resting, and starting again. Writing is a series of starts and stops.
Hmmm, Steinbeck has a different perspective. He suggests we abandon the idea that we are ever going to finish. Writers should never be finished. We are always in a state of writing, thus always in a state of becoming, doing, advancing, never fully completing because the next project runs seamlessly on the heels of what preceded it.
As I looked across the bay, I remember feeling like I had lost a year since writing my first novel because I have invested myself in developing this blog. How can I change my writing perspective about this? I thought more about it and then looked at how many words I’ve written in this blog over the last year or so. (The word count is equivalent to having written another book.) Suddenly, I felt like I had the “write perspective.”
“Just do the writing, Jim,” I told myself. Don’t worry about the pages and the word count until later.
Steinbeck was right. Just tell the story and when it is done, let it surprise you.