Week 3: How to Write by Gertrude Stein


I can’t help but laugh when I read the back of How to Write by Gertrude Stein: “It will not teach anyone how to write…”

This book is about GS’s process– how she approached writing, which as stated in the introduction, “What is there to know about the writing of GS and the thoughts and feelings of GS and her life as an artist as a creative writer. One most important thing to know is that there is no separation between thinking and feeling and the act of writing. It is all done at the same time.”

How to Write is broken up into different segments- Sentences, paragraphs, grammar, narrative, vocabulary, forensics. My favorite chapter is Finally George a Vocabulary, which was the most ‘story like’ part of the book from my reading. The book is difficult to read in any linear fashion and as a write I found myself wondering how GS wrote this.

I also found it helped to include the chapter title when reading the opening sentence of a new paragraph while reading this. For ex, in the chapter In Narrative– I’ve just pulled a random page– the line reads “There are no men no women needed for love there are no women no men needed for love.” — adding “In narrative” to the beginning of that sentence helps me reach a deeper understanding of what GS is trying to say, or at least feel like I am getting closer, though it’s always hard to say with GS.

I flagged some pages to pull a few lines from that I appreciated:

In the chapter Sentences, GS wrote “What is a sentence.” many times throughout. In one case she writes: What is a sentence. A sentence has nothing to do about words.”

In the chapter “A Vocabulary for Thinking” she writes, “George did see eye to eye and did hear ear to ear” – I think I’ve met a few Georges in my life.

From the same chapter, “Two fishes are enough for three people.”

From the chapter In Narrative, “That is at one time that it what is deliberately followed by announcing that they wished to be women by women by deliberately announcing that they wished to be winning by deliberately announcing that they wished to be women. That is one way of deliberating and deciding and intending to have a narrative of preceding.”

Gertrude Stein’s writing is brain candy to me– this was a challenging read and I’m glad to have spent some time with How to Write.

7 comments on “Week 3: How to Write by Gertrude Stein”

  1. Borkali, we see eye to eye as to this brain candy. Thank you for this quotes & the tip about the titles. Can you see a whiff of the suffragist movement in “In Narrative?” We thought we saw some in Tender Buttons’ “Mildred’s Umbrella.” Stein wasn’t a suffragist but she was surely reading about it. Also, the woman who was her first romantic interest, at school in the U.S., was later very involved.

    So pleased you got to this book in your stack and shared it here! I really need to read it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am reminded of a one woman show I saw years ago, “Gertrude Stein Gertrude Stein Gertrude Stein.” I loved the play, and decided it would be fun to read it. I just ordered a used copy I found online. Gertrude Stein is fascinating!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve always thought this was funny.: What Basket the poodle taught Stein about writing:

    “Basket although now he is a large unwieldy poodle, still will get up on Gertrude Stein’s lap and stay there. She says that listening to the rhythm of his water drinking made her recognize the difference between sentences and paragraphs, that paragraphs are emotional and that sentences are not.” (Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fun fact, Josie! Thank you for introducing us to Basket the Poodle — I love knowing the origin of her thinking about sentences and paragraphs. I find myself often listening to my dog Georgia breathe as a way to better understand emotions.


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