Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist: Some Advice


About a week ago I came across a post by Damyanti about Tim Tomlinson and his novel, the Portable MFA. (Read it here.) What interested me at the time was that Damyanti had said that that book had given her the confidence to write. And having read the introduction, The MFA vs. the Portable MFA, I can see why shelling out less than one hundred dollars would be better than paying between $35,000 – $50,000 to get an MFA degree. Believe me I’ve tried. I was told not enough publications to my credit, so I continue to write. Anyway, after reading her post, I checked through my stack, realized that I had a copy, but as yet hadn’t given it a read – so many books, so little time. Now though, having read the first chapter on Fiction, I can see that it is indeed valuable and that led me digging through the stack to see what other books I might also have overlooked.


on becoming a novelist
Which led me back to On Becoming a Novelist, a book by John Gardner. I had read it a few months ago, but during a lull in the writing I am finding it helpful. Consider it suggestions to a developing writer. Below I offer you six pieces of advice or things to consider as you write your novel. If you possess a copy, go through it again. See if you find anything hauntingly helpful, like the list below.



Six things to consider if you want to write:


John Gardner

1. What counts is the character’s story and the first quality of good storytelling is storytelling.
2. The young writer should read to see how effects are achieved, how things are done, sometimes reflecting on what he would have done in the same situation and on whether his way would have been better or worse, and why?

3. The wise or more experienced writer gives the reader the information he needs to understand the story movement by movement.

4. Good fiction affirms responsible humanness.

5. Maintain a vivid, continuous dream. (i.e. tell the story without butting in, like I’m doing here by adding this bit.)

6. Look inward for approval and support. Have the endurance and pace of a marathon runner. (Here I think of Haruki Murakami) Be driven and directed by an inner force.

Thanks again for your post, Damyanti. Read it above and catch you all next week!

2 thoughts on “Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist: Some Advice

  1. I’ve said it before and here I will yell it from atop my favorite writing chair…anyone who wants to be a good writer, needs to read “On Being a Novelist. ” This book is a game changer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s