978-0-06-091126-3 / 9780060911263

On Becoming a Novelist


Publisher:HarperCollins Publishers



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About the book:

Picture the poor, young, serious fiction writer. He toils alone at a pace not so different from that of Lincoln Tunnel traffic at rush hour. His spouse has a "real" job, or perhaps he has a trust fund. His college friends are cashing in on their dot-coms and wondering if he's ever going to join the real world. He is not hell-bent on publication: he is trying to write "serious, honest fiction, the kind of novel that readers will find they enjoy reading more than once, the kind of fiction likely to survive." He's likely to have no idea whether he's succeeding. Nobody understands him.

Well, almost nobody. John Gardner understands him. Gardner's sympathetic On Becoming a Novelist is the novelist's ultimate comfort food--better than macaroni and cheese, better than chocolate. Gardner, a fiction writer himself (Grendel), knows in his own bones the desperate questioning of a writer who is not sure whether he's up to the task. He recognises the validation that comes with publishing, just as much as he believes that "for a true novel there is generally no substitute for slow, slow baking." Gardner also has strong feelings about what kind of workshops help (and who they help), and what kind hinders. But a full half of Gardner's book is devoted to an exploration of the writer's nature. The storyteller's intelligence, he says, "is composed of several qualities, most of which, in normal people, are signs of either immaturity or incivility." In addition, a writer needs to have "verbal sensitivity, accuracy of eye" and "an almost demonic compulsiveness." But wait--there's more. A writer needs be driven, and to be driven, he says, well, "a psychological wound is helpful". --Jane Steinberg

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