Stein's first book, QED, went unpublished until after her death; she began another, The Making of Americans in 1903; she finished it in 1911, but it took until 1925 to see print.
Stein's brother Leo, with whom she was living in Paris, encouraged her to attempt a translation of Flaubert's Three Tales to improve her French. She began the project in 1905 under the title Three Histories, and finished it in 1909.
As the book developed, Stein included and later dropped an authorial narrator Jane Sands (perhaps named after George Sand, whose work she admired). Among the titles the book went through as it progressed were The Making of an Author being a History of one woman and many others.
Leo bought in 1904 a portrait by French painter Paul Cézanne, Portrait of Madame Cézanne (c. 1881). Painted in an unnatural, high-contrast style that eschews conventional approaches to depicting femininity, the work portrays the artist's wife holding a fan while reclining in a high-baked red chair. This hung above Stein's writing desk as she composed Three Lives. During the writing of Three Lives, Picasso painted Portrait of Gertrude Stein (1906), in which the hairstyle, hands, and mask-like face of Stein bear strong resemblance to Cézanne's depiction of his wife.