Journal of a Novel, by John Steinbeck


As John Steinbeck wrote his first draft of “East of Eden” he also, each day, wrote daily letters  to his editor, Pascal Covic. Often the letters were notes he wrote on the left-hand side of his actual writings for the novel. The letters were comments on family relationships, concerns about the day’s writings, comments about his own writing skills and a variety of subjects. These notes, or letters, took place over 10 months beginning the first of February 1951.

Writers in our current day often speak about their daily writing habits sometimes called “daily pages” or “morning pages”, sometimes in longhand and sometimes just typed out and referred to as a stream of consciousness writing.   Like a good athlete, the process is a way of warming up and Steinbeck referred to it as “getting my mental arm in shape to pitch a good game.”

Steinbeck’s warm ups were part autobiography, personal detail in his life for that day, comments about his kids, feelings about his second wife Elaine, his moods, and even how he feels about his pencils.

We see the book unfolding along with the comments and we see his discipline and focus. He commented about this his daily letters process, comparing it to how he saw his own approach differently when wrote The Grapes of Wrath, explaining that approach as being “headlong” where he stayed tightly focused on a cast of characters that he carefully crafted.


“I intended to make it sound guileless and rather sweet but you will see in it the little blades of social criticism without which no book is worth a fart in hell.” 

“The craft or art of writing is the clumsy attempt to find symbols for the wordlessness.” 

“All this is a preface to the fear and uncertainties which clamber over a man so that in his silly work he thinks he must be crazy because he is so alone.” 

“There is one thing I don’t think any one has ever set down although it is true—to a monster, everyone else is a monster.” 

“I can tell all I want about them now because they are all dead and they won’t resent the truth about themselves.” 

“But I do feel strange-almost unearthly. I'll never get used to being alive. It's a mystery. Always startled to find I've survived.” 

“I think perhaps I am one of those lucky mortals whose work and whose life are the same thing.”