Behind the Pen: John Steinbeck on the life and death sequence of book writing

John Steinbeck

I have always considered that while some writers must be glad to see the back of a book they’re working on, most must feel quite sad and melancholic about coming to the end, and letting go of something they have devoted much time and effort to. They have, after all, grown to know their book and have become intimate with it, and then suddenly the relationship is torn.

For some I guess, book writing is much akin to being embroiled in a series of love affairs, and as John Steinbeck writes in the preface to a collection of his short novels, it very much is. But while the writer moves on so his finished work does to, as it struggles on its own two feet to survive in the hostile world it’s thrust into. “What happens to a book when it’s put out into the world,” Steinbeck says, “is very like what happens to a man.”:

It is true that while a work is in progress, the writer and his book are one. When a book is finished, it is a kind of death, a matter of pain and sorrow to the writer. Then he starts a new book, and a new life, and if he is growing and changing, a whole new life starts. The writer, like a fickle lover, forgets his old love. It is no longer his own: the intimacy and the surprise are gone. So much I knew, but I had not thought of the little stories thrust out into an unfriendly world to make their way. They have experiences, too – they grow and change or wane and die, just as everyone does. They makes friends or enemies, and sometimes they waste away from neglect.

*Behind the Pen is an ongoing series presented in the form of interviews, letter extracts and quotes etc. which explore the mind of the writer behind his/her work.

About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books)