Le paradis n'est pas artificiel …

May 18, 2012

Steinbeck's trip abroad

March 8, 1962

Dear Edith Mirrielees:

I am delighted that your volume Story Writing is going into a paperback edition. It will reach a far larger audience, and that is a good thing. It may not teach the reader how to write a good story, but it will surely help him to recognize one when he reads it.

Although it must be a thousand years ago that I sat in your class in story writing at Stanford, I remember the experience very clearly. I was bright-eyed and bushy-brained and prepared to absorb from you the secret formula for writing good short stories, even great short stories.

You canceled this illusion very quickly. The only way to write a good short story, you said, was to write a good short story. Only after it is written can it be taken apart to see how it was done. It is a most difficult form, you told us, and the proof lies in how very few great short stories there are in the world.

The basic rule you gave us was simple and heartbreaking. A story to be effective had to convey something from writer to reader and the power of its offering was the measure of its excellence. Outside of that, you said, there were no rules. A story could be about anything and could use any means and technique at all—so long as it was effective.

As a subhead to this rule, you maintained that it seemed to be necessary for the writer to know what he wanted to say, in short, what he was talking about. As an exercise we were to try reducing the meat of a story to one sentence, for only then could we know it well enough to enlarge it to three or six or ten thousand words.

So there went the magic formula, the secret ingredient. With no more than that you set us on the desolate lonely path of the writer. And we must have turned in some abysmally bad stories. If I had expected to be discovered in a full bloom of excellence, the grades you gave my efforts quickly disillusioned me. And if I felt unjustly criticized, the judgments of editors for many years afterwards upheld your side, not mine.

It seemed unfair. I could read a fine story and could even know how it was done, thanks to your training. Why could I not do it myself? Well, I couldn't, and maybe it's because no two stories dare be alike. Over the years I have written a great many stories and I still don't know how to go about it except to write it and take my chances.

If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced that there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes but by no means always find the way to do it.

It is not so very hard to judge a story after it is written, but after many years, to start a story still scares me to death. I will go so far as to say that the writer who is not scared is happily unaware of the remote and tantalizing majesty of the medium.

I wonder whether you will remember one last piece of advice you gave me. It was during the exuberance of the rich and frantic twenties and I was going out into that world to try to be a writer.

You said, "It's going to take a long time, and you haven't any money. Maybe it would be better if you could go to Europe."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because in Europe poverty is a misfortune, but in America it is shameful. I wonder whether or not you can stand the shame of being poor."

It wasn't too long afterwards that the depression came down. Then everyone was poor and it was no shame any more. And so I will never know whether or not I could have stood it. But surely you were right about one thing, Edith. It took a long time—a very long time. And it is still going on and it has never got easier. You told me it wouldn't.

John Steinbeck

"Story Writing", by Edith Ronald Mirrielees; via Letters of Note).

Posted by Delire at May 18, 2012 11:28 AM

My heart goes out to Ben and the Suprunowski Family for all that they have been through dunrig this time. But, because of you guys, and your faith in Christ, I am able to write this letter of thanks to you. Though everyday is a miracle in and of itself, I would have to say that Ben's healing was the first solid miracle I have witnessed and been apart of through prayer. I don't know Ben personally, and I am at loss for words as to how I managed to find out about Ben's accident, because I haven't heard anything about it in the news, and none of my friends know about it. However, I thank God everyday for allowing me to find this prayer blog because it has changed my life. I now long to live ALL my life for Christ, and I mean every part of my being thanks to Ben! I was raised in a Christian home my entire life, (praise the Lord), so I knew God, but I lacked the personal relationship with God. Then, about 2 years ago, I decided to take the step into dedicating my life to Christ by being baptized at my church called Solid Rock. Now, 2 years later, my walk with God has grown termendously, but I still felt like I was lacking something. As I was praying for Ben, I realized that I needed Christ to be a part of every aspect in my life. From my schooling, to my job, in my friends and hobbies Christ needed to be evident in all that I do. Through doing this, I hope to reflect Christ and His love through my actions and words Just like He is evident in the Suprunowski Family. Now, at age 20, I was able to unveil the plans that God has for me. My heart longs even more to become an emergency/trauma nurse so that I may be able to help people who are involved in serious incidents such as Ben's. My heart breaks for what Ben had to go through, but my soul rejoices for all the glory that has been given to God, and His name. Thank you so much Suprunowski Family for staying strong and relying on God through this situation. It was by faith, prayer and God's healing power that Ben is still with us today. And it was through these things that so many other lives were touched as well.Not only was Ben's life saved, but Ben also helped save my life as well! May God continue to pour out His blessings on you Ben Suprunowski, as you have been such a blessing to my life. Thanks again to the entire family for radiating the light of Christ for all to see. God Bless,Chantel Baucom

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