A writer’s diary: John Steinbeck

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13 February 1951

It must be told that my second work day is a bust as far as getting into the writing. I suffer as always from the fear of putting down the first line. It is amazing the terrors, the magics, the prayers, the straightening shyness that assails one. It is as though the words were not only indelible but that they spread out like dye in water and colour everything around them. A strange and mystic business, writing. Almost no progress has taken place since it was invented. The Book of the Dead is as good and as highly developed as anything in the 20th century and much better than most. And yet in spite of this lack of a continuing excellence, hundreds of thousands of people are in my shoes – praying feverishly for relief from their word pangs. And one thing we have lost – the courage to make new words or combinations. Somewhere the old bravado has slipped off into a gangrened scholarship. Oh! you can make words if you enclose them in quotation marks. This indicates that it is dialect and cute.

– John Steinbeck

 

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