zondag 12 februari 2017
John Steinbeck -- 12 februari 1951
Februari 12 [monday]
As I said above, we moved into the little house on 72nd St. We have been painting and carrying and arranging for over a week. But there has to come a day when one says—"Now that is over." I can do many small things after 3:30 but the first part of the day must now be for the book. This is a kind of necessary selfishness—otherwise books do not get written. And so I am taking this Lincoln's Birthday of 1951 to start my book. I will be 49 in two weeks. I am fairly strong but breathless. I weigh some-what too much and will try tö lose a little weight as I go. Because of all the confusion of the last several years, I will have difficulty in concentrating for a while. That is a conditioned trick. My health is generally good. I have been drinking too much, I think, and a few times in the last months I have had depressions. But it does not seem to me that the depressions are as awful as they used to be. Perhaps some acid juice is drying up. My sexual drive is, if anything, stronger than ever but that may be because it is all in one direction now and not scattered. I don't know about my thinking. It will take this book to determine whether or not that is any good. My mind seems to me to be young and elastic but perhaps everyone thinks that always.
Lincoln's Birthday. My first day of work in my new room. It is a very pleasant room and I have a drafting table to work on which I have always wanted—also a comfortable chair given me by Elaine. In fact I have never had it so good and so comfortable. It does occur to me that perhaps it might be a little too comfortable. I have known such things to happen—the perfect pointed pencil—the paper persuasive—the fantastic chair and a good light and no writing. Surely a man is a most treacherous animal full of his treasured contradictions. He may not admit it but he loves his paradoxes.
Now that I have everything, we shall see whether I have any-thing. It is exactly that simple. Mark Twain used to write in bed— so did our greatest poet. But I wonder now often they wrote in bed—or whether they did it twice and the story took hold. Such things happen. Also I would like to know what things they wrote in bed and what things they wrote sitting up. All of this has to do with comfort in writing and what its value is. I should think that a comfortable body would let the mind go freely to its gathering. But such is the human that he might react in an opposite. Remem-ber my father's story about the man who did not dare be comfortable because he went to sleep. That might be true of me too. Now I am perfectly comfortable in body. I think my house is in order. Elaine, my beloved, is taking care of all the outside details to allow me the amount of free untroubled time every day to do my work. I can't think of anything else necessary to a writer except a story and the will and the ability to teil it.
In considering this book and in planning for it I have thought of many great and interesting tricks. I have made new languages, new symbols, a new kind of writing; and now that the book is ready to go, I am throwing them all away and starting from scratch. I want to make this book so simple in its difficulty that a child can understand it. I want to go through it before it is typed and take out even the few adjectives I have let slip in. What then will the style be? I don't know. Books establish their own pace. This I have found out. As soon as the story starts its style will establish itself. But still I do not think that all the experimenting is wasted that has kept some aliveness. The waggling pencil —the apes with typewriters hitting at a dictionary — this has all been all right but it cannot be depended on.
I have a good feeling about this book now and I hope I can keep it. It is a feeling of real relaxation and rest. It would be fine if I could keep such a feeling. I surely intend to try. Next, I want to be so relaxed that the book will soothe and excite at the same time. Also it must not be a dour book but one that has gaiety as well as movement. It has to have a universal quality or there is no point in writing it.
The writing table is perfect. I have never been so content with anything. And the blue wing-back chair is wonderfully comfortable. It might possibly be too comfortable but this I do not believe. I think that if I can be relaxed, the book has a chance of being relaxed, and I have a very strong feeling about this book being completely at ease and comfortable. Also I have a strong feeling about its being very long. Otherwise I will have lost my whole direction. I want to take a great time with this book. I would like to write on it all year—if that seems good. I know that you, Pat, are anxious to get it done and out but that is because then the work you love will start. But this book is to be the labor that I love and I intend to take full advantage of it. I have often thought that this might be my last book. I don't really mean that because I will be writing books until I die. But I want to write this one as though it were my last book. Maybe I believe that every book should be written that way. I think I mean that. It is the ideal. And I have done just the opposite. I have written each book as an exercise, as practice for the one to come. And this is the one to come. There is nothing beyond this book—nothing follows it. It must contain all in the world I know and it must have everything in it of which I am capable—all styles, all techniques, all poetry—and it must have in it a great deal of laughter. I can see no reason why I should not teil the family stories. They are just as good as they ever were and maybe as I go I will remember more and more of them. But I do know that I must put in all of the lore and anecdote I can. And many of my family stories amount to folklore and should be used for and by the boys. Then they will know their family. I think I will put a good deal of my mother and my father also. It is time I wrote these things, else they will be gone because no one else will ever do them except me. I am very happy at my new table and with all my things about me. Never have I had such a comfortable layout.
My choice of pencils lies now between the black Calculator stolen from Fox Films and this Mongol 2 3/8 F which is quite black and holds its point well—much better in fact than the Fox pencils. I will get six more or maybe four more dozens of them for my pencil tray. And this is all I am going to do on this my first day of work.