S is for Steinbeck


John Ernst Steinbeck Jnr was born in 1902 in rural California and spent his childhood summers working with migrant workers on ranches, which later supplied him with the material for his novels.

At the age of 23, after leaving University with no degree, he travelled to New York where he took odd jobs while trying to write. But returned home after being unable to find someone to publish his work.

His parents gave him free lodging and loans so that he could continue to write but it wasn’t until his first commercially successful novel (Tortilla Flats in 1935) that he was able to build his own home.

Subsequent successes, Of Mice and Men, Grapes of Wrath (which has now sold over 15 million copies) and East of Eden guaranteed his place amongst the American literary greats and his work is now a constant feature on school curriculums across the globe.

The Nobel Prize for Literature, which he received in 1962 described his work as “realistic and imaginative writing, combining as it does sympathetic humor and keen social perception.”

He died of heart failure in New York at the age of 66.

My favourite Steinbeck quotes:

“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”

“If you are using dialogue – say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.”

“Unless a reviewer has the courage to give you unqualified praise I say ignore the bastard.”

“In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable.”

“The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true.”

“You see this book is finished and it is a bad book and I must get rid of it. It can’t be printed. It is bad because it isn’t honest. Oh! The incidents all happened but — I’m not telling as much of the truth about them as I know. I’ve written three books now that were dishonest because they were less than the best that I could do. One you never saw because I burned it the day I finished it.”

Steinbecks Nobel Prize Acceptance speech:

I don’t know about you, but the thought of burning a whole novel ive written, just because I wasn’t happy with it, makes me feel almost faint! Lol. But it got me thinking just how many great writers over the years (pre computers) would have just thrown their work in the bin! 😦 Ive kept absolutely everything ive written since I took up writing (but I did burn some journals a few years ago because they were full of unhappy times). Have you kept everything or are you happy to throw it away?

32 thoughts on “S is for Steinbeck

  1. OOh I just love reading each writer’s quote the most. 🙂 I find it inspiring that he couldn’t get his writing published at first. Look at what he became!

    I have to say that I’ve never thrown any of my books away. Oh my gosh, you just never know when you’re going to get back to it…


  2. I think Steinbeck was right about honesty being the most important thing in writing. If you flinch, hide, or cover up, the reader will know. I’ve probably kept a lot of stuff I should’ve burned! 🙂 But burning something after I’ve taken the trouble to finish it? Don’t think so.


  3. I’ve leant to never throw anything away. I find that I need a couple of days away from my work to really evaluate its quality. I think for me it comes down to the comparison of my vision for a novel with what I’ve actually written. At the time I feel I haven’t expressed myself as clearly as possible. But, I don’t know how many times I’ve come across something I’ve written months before and thought it was so much better than I’d remembered.
    It does seem like we can be our own harshest critic 🙂


    • Thanks Katherine, thats a great tip, coming back to it after a few days.

      Oh very true 😦 My problem is the other way round though…i think its great but then i reread it and realise its rubbish lol 😉



  4. I must’ve read East of Eden a zillion times in my younger days. That is funny what Steinbeck said about burning his work. I feel that way all the time, my friends are sick of me saying I’m going to burn my book. Sadly, unlike Steinbeck, my stuff might merit burning.


  5. Vikki, I’ve written about this several times on my own blog. Never, never, never throw away journals, old drafts, old musty-smelling yellow legal pads. Keep them and cherish them like old photos.

    I am grateful that Steinbeck didn’t burn them all. Read everything that he published from the first to the last. I wonder what he would have thought of this new world in cyber space. Would he have broken all his discs, thrown out a few computers?? The world must be grateful for what we have of him and his legacy to us … the incredible genius of characters and relationships.


    • Thanks Florence 🙂

      The journals that i burnt were sitting on my shelf laughing at me, i had to do it lol…i felt much better when they were gone.

      Ha ha ha, thats a good point! I can just imagine him trashing Laptops lol

      Oh definitely! 🙂



  6. Yes another great writer – Grapes of Wraith my fav – Rabbits – good line
    I keep most everything I’ve written, one never knows. But one of my first pieces written decades ago I seem to have not kept..


  7. I have deleted much in my time, but only if I know it’s dire and I won’t use it. The rest is in a folder on my laptop waiting for its day to come!
    Another great author – I love Tortilla Flat – I recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it!


    • I think with everything on our hard drives nowadays there isn’t any reason to hit that delete button, just in case 😉

      Ive not read that one Bel….will add it to my list lol

      Thanks honey xx


  8. One of my favorites! Good “S” choice. I love his quote about ‘reviews.’ I think “Of Mice & Men” is one of the most perfectly crafted books ever written. An extremely poignant story in only 99 pages! Now there’s a writer 🙂


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