John Gardner | Quotations of a Novelist | #9

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No fiction can have real interest if the central character is not an agent struggling for his or her own goals but a victim, subject to the will of others. (Failure to recognize that the central character must act, not simply be acted upon, is the single most common mistake in the fiction of beginners.) We care how things turn out because the character cares, our interest comes from empathy, and though we may know more than the character knows, anticipating dangers the character cannot see, we understand and to some degree sympathize with the character’s desire, approving what the character approves.” ― John Gardnerjohn-gardner-1933-1982
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

John Gardner | Quotations of a Novelist | #8

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“As a general rule, highly rational writers (like Nabokov) write most comfortably in the morning, and mainly intuitive writers write most comfortably at night.”
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“Theme is not imposed on the story but evoked from within it- initially an intuitive but finally an intellectual act on the part of a writer.”
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“One cannot judge in advance whether or not the idea of the story is worthwhile because until one has finished writing the story one does not know for sure what the idea is; and one cannot judge the style of a story on the basis of a first draft, because in a first draft the style of the finished story does not yet exist.” ― John Gardner
john-gardner-1933-1982
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

John Gardner | Quotations of a Novelist | #7

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“What the young writer needs to develop, to achieve his goal of becoming a great artist, is not a set of aesthetic laws but artistic mastery. He cannot hope to develop mastery all at once; it involves too much. But if he pursues his goal in the proper way, he can approach it much more rapidly than he would if he went at it hit-or-miss, and the more successful he is at each stage along the way, the swifter his progress is likely to be. Invariably when the beginning writer hands in a short story to his writing teacher, the story has many things about it that mark it as amateur. But almost as invariably, when the beginning writer deals with some particular, small problem, such as description of a setting, description of a character, or brief dialogue that has some definite purpose, the quality of the work approaches the professional. Having written some small thing very well, he begins to learn confidence.” ― John Gardnerjohn-gardner-1933-1982
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

John Gardner | Quotations of a Novelist | #6

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“Character is the very life of fiction. Setting exists only so that the character has someplace to stand. Plot exists so the character can discover what he is really like, forcing the character to choice and action. And theme exists only to make the character stand up and be somebody.”
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“One of the things that should go into the writer’s notebook is a set of experiments with the sentence. A convenient and challenging place to begin is with the long sentence, one that runs to at least two pages.” ― John Gardnerjohn-gardner-1933-1982
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

John Gardner | On Becoming a Novelist | #43

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“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.”

“I write for those who desire, not publication at any cost, but publication one can be proud of–serious, honest fiction, the kind of novel that readers will find they enjoy reading more than once, the kind of fiction likely to survive.” ― John Gardner, On Becoming a Novelist
john-gardner-1933-1982
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

John Gardner | On Becoming a Novelist | #42

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“Novel-writing is not so much a profession as a yoga, or “way,” an alternative to ordinary life-in-the-world. Its benefits are quasi-religious—a changed quality of mind and heart, satisfactions no non-novelist can understand—and its rigors generally bring no profit except to the spirit. For those who are authentically called to the profession, spiritual profits are enough.” ― John Gardner, On Becoming a Novelist
john-gardner-1933-1982
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

John Gardner | On Becoming a Novelist | #41

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“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. – John Gardner, On Becoming a Novelist
john-gardner-1933-1982
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