On Monday, February 26, 1951, John Steinbeck wrote,
“I don’t understand why some days are wide open and others are closed off, some days smile and others have thin slitted eyes and others still are days which worry. And it does not seem to be me but the day itself.”
Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters
Is this wishful thinking by John Steinbeck? For surely, it is me. And not the day itself. Usually, I have plans for my days–scaffolding, Annie Dillard would say. Certain things I always do on Monday–exercise. A particular thing I want to do this Monday–work on my new novel. And then there’s the email, the phone call, the car that won’t start, the brain that won’t work. What if the scaffolding comes tumbling down on top of me? Well, then I can use tape or glue to force it back up or I can pause for a minute to see if a new shape might be emerging from the pieces.
Every day that John Steinbeck worked on the first draft of East of Eden, from January 29 to November 1, 1951, he began the day by writing a letter to his editor, who was also his friend. For anyone beginning or in the middle of a novel or any other long project, this book is proof that day by day, it can be done.