John Gardner | On Becoming a Novelist | #31

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“The shoddy writer wants only publication. He fails to recognize that almost anyone willing to devote between twelve and fourteen hours a day to writing–and there are many such people, will eventually get published. But only the great writer will survive, the writer who fully understands his trade and is willing to take time and the necessary risks, always assuming, of course, that the writer is profoundly honest and at least in his writing, sane. Sanity in a writer is merely this: However stupid he may be in his private life, he never cheats in writing. He never forgets that his audience is, at least ideally, as noble, generous, and tolerant as he is himself (or more so), and never forgets that he is writing about people, so that to turn characters to cartoons, to treat his characters as innately inferior to himself, to forget their reasons for being as they are, to treat them as brutes, is bad art. Sanity also involves taste. The true writer has a great advantage over most other people: He knows the great tradition of literature, which has always been the cutting edge of morality, religion, and politics, to say nothing of social reform. He knows what the greatest literary minds of the past are proud to do and what they will not stoop to, and his knowledge informs his practice.” ― John Gardner
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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

2 thoughts on “John Gardner | On Becoming a Novelist | #31

  1. Gardner’s statements are profound. If we are writers, we must have something to say, something that allows readers their own thoughts while also drawing them inside the story through the plot and characters. I am always a bit suspicious of writers who churn out novels like so much butter.

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