On Becoming a Novelist includes the wisdom accumulated as a fiction writer and creative writing teacher during the distinguished twenty-year career of John Gardner. Gardner describes the life of a working novelist with elegance, humor, and sophistication; warns against what needs to be protected, bo... th from within the writer and from without; and predicts what the writer can reasonably expect and what he or she can generally not. "Nothing is more joyful or satisfying for a certain type of person than a novelist's life," Gardner writes. "But no other vocation, he quickly adds, is so full of professional and spiritual difficulties. Whether talking about the supposed value of the workshops of the writer, explaining the role of the agent and editor of the novelist, or railing against the seductive fruits of literary elitism, On Becoming a Novelist is an indispensable, life-affirming handbook for anyone authentically called to the profession. "The creative process's miraculously detailed account."—Anne Tyler, Baltimore Sun
As every writer knows... there is something mysterious about the writer's ability, on any given day, to write. When the juices are flowing, or the writer is 'hot', an invisible wall seems to fall away, and the writer moves easily and surely from one kind of reality to another... Every writer has experienced at least moments of this strange, magical state. Reading student fiction one can spot at once where the power turns on and where it turns off, where the writer writes from 'inspiration' or deep, flowing vision, and where he had to struggle along on mere intellect.
What the best fiction does is make powerful affirmations of familiar truths...the trivial fiction which times filters out is that which either makes wrong affirmations or else makes affirmations in a squeaky little voice. Powerful affirmation comes from strong intellect and strong emotions supported by adequate technique.
The best way a writer can find to keep himself going is to live off his (or her) spouse. The trouble is that, psychologically at least, it’s hard. Our culture teaches none of its false lessons more carefully than that one should never be dependent. Hence the novice or still unsuccessful writer, who has enough trouble believing in himself, has the added burden of shame. It’s hard to be a good writer and a guilty person; a lack of self-respect creeps into one’s prose.
Like other kinds of intelligence, the storyteller's is partly natural, partly trained. It is composed of several qualities, most of which, in normal people, are signs of either immaturity or incivility: wit (a tendency to make irreverent connections); obstinacy and a tendency toward churlishness (a refusal to believe what all sensible people know is true); childishness (an apparent lack of mental focus and serious life purpose, a fondness for daydreaming and telling pointless lies, a lack of proper respect, mischievousness, an unseemly propensity for crying over nothing); a marked tendency toward oral or anal fixation or both (the oral manifested by excessive eating, drinking, smoking, and chattering; the anal by nervous cleanliness and neatness coupled with a weird fascination with dirty jokes); remarkable powers of eidetic recall, or visual memory (a usual feature of early adolescence and mental retardation); a strange admixture of shameless playfulness and embarrassing earnestness, the latter often heightened by irrationally intense feelings for or against religion; patience like a cat's; a criminal streak of cunning; psychological instability; recklessness, impulsiveness, and improvidence; and finally, an inexplicable and incurable addiction to stories, written or oral, bad or good.