John Gardner | On Becoming a Novelist | #15

“When a writer first begins to write, he or she feels the same first thrill of achievement that the young gambler or oboe player feels: winning a little, losing some, the gambler sees the glorious possibilities, exactly as the young oboist feels an indescribable thrill when he gets a few phrases to sound like real music, phrases implying an infinite possibility for satisfaction and self-expression. As long as the gambler or oboist is only playing at being a gambler or oboist, everything seems possible. But when the day comes that he sets his mind on becoming a professional, suddenly he realizes how much there is to learn, how little he knows.” ― 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

3 thoughts on “John Gardner | On Becoming a Novelist | #15

    • Understandable. I love to write poems more than any other form of writing but I also love to think up stories and stage them out. Eventually if I am able I write them into a book. Not everyone needs to do this to have a productive and satisfying life. Your poems are amazing, insightful, intelligent, and sometimes mind-bending. I forgot to include inspirational. Your mind in words is phenomenal. No need to become a novelist. My mind is all over the place so I need to find a way to give it room to grow. Also I get to be as out there in the universe as possible when writing novels or short stories. But as I mentioned earlier my love is to use words in the deepest form of poetry or to write in the non-sense form. It always makes me feel better.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. There are very few things I’m good at, but I think I’m not too bad at poetry and definitely like my own cooking. I write/type so very slowly that if I did want to write a novel I would never get to finish it. I am always astonished and full of admiration for writers like Terry Pratchett and Sheri Tepper who were so prolific. Thank you for the fulsome praise. 😳 I shall try to live up to it.

    Yesterday I reposted a poem from 2012 which is me doing a John Gardner, although in my own style of course. 🙂 Part of my “prose with pretensions” unlinked series. 😉 I think you will probably like it.


    When you learn to distinguish
    between what is truly good in poetry
    (especially your own)
    and what is – shall we say – not so good
    then you are almost there.

    The rest is just practice, daring,
    risk taking and self confidence.
    Satisfying yourself is the foundation.
    Rules are there to follow or break;
    pleasing others a welcome bonus.

    So leave the back door wide open
    and invite the Musey Lady in for a brew.
    She loves to take a load off.
    If she’s silent, it’s only ‘cos she’s thinking.
    She’s just observing, sipping her tea.


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