A writer’s diary: John Steinbeck on comfortable space for writing

image credit

12 February 1951

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. 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 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 anything. It is exactly that simple. Mark Twain used to write in bed – so did our greatest poet. But I wonder how 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 way. Remember 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 write except a story and the will to tell it.

– John Steinbeck 

 

221B Baker Street – the home of Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle’s most celebrated character, exists in his own right. He’s a fictional character who’s taken on a life of his own. So much so that there is a museum dedicated to him on Baker Street (his fictional address) in London. 

It’s a cute little museum showcasing what Holmes and Watson’s rooms may have looked like. Entirely touristy yes, but still worth a trip for any Sherlock Holmes fan. 

221B Baker Street

Holmes’ Violin

Watson’s Desk

I visited the museum years ago, but Holmes has an increased significance for me now, as I am doing my MA dissertation on Conan Doyle. The author and his hero were both incredibly fascinating, and the fact that Sherlock Holmes continues to be one of the most reincarnated and celebrated character is a testament to Conan Doyle’s writing and imagination. 

 

A writer’s diary: John Steinbeck

image credit

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

 

A writer’s diary: Sylvia Plath

image credit

25 February 1957

Ted’s book of poems – The Hawk in the Rain – has won the first Harper’s publication contest under the 3 judges: W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender & Marianne Moore! Even as I write this, I am incredulous. The little scared people reject. The big unscared practising poets accept. I knew there would be something like this to welcome us to New York! We will publish a bookshelf of books between us before we perish! And a batch of brilliant healthy children! I can hardly wait to see the letter of award (which has not yet come) & learn details of publication. To smell the print off the pages!

– Sylvia Plath