Thursday, January 22, 2015

On Becoming a Novelist, by John Gardner - book review

 Rating: 4/5

Well, this book could really be titled "On Becoming a Novelist in America" because it's really US-centric. The rest of the world, for instance, won't care that Iowa has a good creative writing program but that Stanford's is no slouch either. But that doesn't take anything away from it, a mix of craft guide, insider wisdom and above all the cumulative experience of the author's many years teaching creative writing in a university setting.

It's enlightening to read that creative writing teachers, while not exactly making it up as they go along, hold to a diverse set of values and goals, though he affirms that in the end it doesn't matter what values are used so long as the students are free to adopt or buck them. No values is bad values, because it leaves the student at the mercy of fashion and unending subjectivity.
Any fledgling writer will want to pay close attention to the section that highlights the signs that you may be in a bad workshop.

I really enjoyed the author's take on the pithy one-liners that circulate in writing circles. For instance, "show, don't tell" isn't widely applicable at all, it only applies to describing emotions and internal states, or which basic adjectives are often wanting. "Write what you know" is another one that, while not debunked, gets a deeper treatment than it suggests. Theme is not all that’s it’s hyped either.

There's stuff to keep from it and anyone reading it will disregard certain aspects or passages, but the
weight of experience in this work is apparent and enriching.

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