John Gardner | On Becoming a Novelist | #10

“I think there really is no other way to write a long, serious novel. You work, shelve it for a while, work, shelve it again, work some more, month after month, year after year, and then one day you read the whole piece through and, so far as you can see, there are no mistakes. (The minute it’s published and you read the printed book you see a thousand.) This tortuous process is not necessary, I suspect, for the writing of a popular novel in which the characters are not meant to have depth and complexity, where character A is consistently stingy and character B is consistently openhearted and nobody is a mass of contradictions, as are real human beings. But for a true novel there is generally no substitute for slow, slow baking.

We’ve all heard the stories of Tolstoy’s pains over Anna Karenina, Jane Austen’s over Emma, or even Dostoevsky’s over Crime and Punishment, a novel he grieved at having to publish prematurely, though he had worked at it much longer than most popular-fiction writers work at their novels.” ― John Gardner, On Becoming a Novelist
John Gardner (1933–1982) was born in Batavia, New York. His critically acclaimed books include the novels Grendel, The Sunlight Dialogues, and October Light, for which he received the National Book Critics Circle Award, as well as several works of nonfiction and criticism . including . On Becoming a Novelist. He was also a professor of medieval literature and a pioneering creative writing teacher whose students included Raymond Carver and Charles Johnson. When I worked at Bennington College in Southern VT I would often see him walking across the campus during the Summer Writing Workshops. Or when his white hair was flowing as he rode his beloved motorcycle on campus or away. – j.kiley

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