I know I promised this book to you, and that I am breaking a promise in withholding it. But I had got smart and cagey you see. I had forgotten that I hadn’t learned to write books, that I will never learn to write them. A book must be a life that lives all of itself and this one doesn’t do that. You can’t write a book. It isn’t that simple. The process is more painful than that. And this is fairly clever, and has skillful passages, but tricks and jokes. Something I, the writer, seem a hell of smart guy--just twisting this people out of shape. But the hell with it. I beat poverty for a good many years and I’ll be damned if I’ll go down at the first whiff of success. I hope you, Pat, don’t think I’ve double-crossed you. In the long run to let this book out would be to double-cross you. But to let the bars down is like a first theft. It’s hard to do, but the second time it isn’t so hard and pretty soon it’s easy. If I should write three books like this and let them out, I would forget there were any other kinds.
This is a letter by John Steinbeck to his publisher explaining why he couldn’t allow his book, L’Affaire Lettuceburg, to be published. My reason for showing this letter to the readers of the Observer is to inspire them to be creative. Steinbeck tells us that he hasn’t "learned to write books” and that he will “never learn to write them,” because “the process is more painful than that.” This meditation tells us that Steinbeck believes a person must encounter a certain amount of adversity or at least sympathy for the troubles faced by others enough so that they can create something they feel is right. Steinbeck didn’t have the experience to create this book. He didn’t believe in it as something that was worthy of being published because it didn’t come from him.
I was inspired by this passage to start writing or drawing or really do anything--hell, I still am. Every time I read it I see something new there and it makes me think about why someone, anyone, should create art. I tried to come up with a definite reason to create art and it was lost on me until I thought about a universal truth. There is something in common about all art. All art should come from its creator, both emotionally or mentally and physically. If you write something, it should not be for someone else’s reasons or made so that it doesn’t tell something about who you are, I think. Your art should be for your own reasons.
Now this isn’t to say that you can’t create art to entertain other people, because that’s often the case with great art or literature; you want to move people. But the point is to keep your idea about what you want to do. If you want to move people in whatever manner, do so. Don’t take on someone else’s ideas and do something that tells people something that isn’t you. Be yourself in your art. Keep your purpose. This is why I chose Steinbeck to prove my point. He created something that wasn’t him and wasn’t from his experience and he chose not to publish it. He realized that letting “the bars down is like a first theft.” By allowing something that he didn’t believe was his work, or his best work to get published, he would be robbing himself and the world of something great. He would be cheapening himself and his listeners.
Now you probably think that it requires a certain amount of pain to create, or at least a certain amount of experience to create great art; so get experienced.
Written for my highschool newspaper, the Observer. Two things shock me about this today: my idealism and opacity.