Years ago, while working for a rare book dealer, I had the opportunity to catalog a collection of letters that John Steinbeck wrote to his family. He was young, just starting out. He spent a good part of a year living at Lake Tahoe alone in a cabin while he worked on his first novel. His letters talked about the struggles of living at Tahoe in the winter time in the 1920s with no electricity. He shoveled snow to get around and rowed across the lake for supplies.
He talked about writing and revising. He finished the book then started immediately into writing a second draft. At the time, I didn’t understand why. If it was finished, it was finished, right? He worked his story until he got it where he wanted it. Can you guess the which book it was? I doubt it. It was called Cup of Gold, a pirate story. Steinbeck went on to become a great writer, but that first book? Not so much. I’ve never read it, but I have to believe that there’s a reason that it’s not on his Best Hits list.
I spent last week snowshoeing around the Tahoe area. I thought about Steinbeck a lot. I thought about him slogging through the snow and chopping wood to get the stove hot to warm up. I thought about him standing on the side of the mountain looking down on the lake like I did. It made me smile. I was encouraged that his first book wasn’t a great success. I was encouraged because he didn’t let that stop him. His best work came later, after Cup of Gold. We should all take heart. Just because your work doesn’t shine now, it doesn’t mean that it won’t later.