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permanent link: the art of fiction - john gardnerthe art of fiction - john gardner

The subtitle of this book is 'Notes on Craft for Young Writers', but whatever you do: please DO NOT give this book to any fresh, young, impressionable writers, because it will almost certainly cure them of the idea of becoming a writer once and for all. I know it would have discouraged me if I hadn't read lots of Goldberg and Lamott first.

Boy, is he a demanding teacher, Mr Gardner. He's right, of course, but I wouldn't exactly recommend starting out your writing life with the idea that everything you write has to be Perfect (or why bother?) and that you have to have read everything from the ancient Greeks forward in order to write anything decent. And if you have a tendency to make spelling mistakes or fumble your grammar, it's best to put down your pen immediately, for then you will never be any good (at least not until you have memorised Strunk & White).

In my humble opinion, beginning writers should be allowed to travel a lot lighter than that. I don't think Gardner's many excellent ideas mean that much to very young people, or people who haven't at least attempted a novel or two. I think they are better off with someone who fools them into thinking that writing is easy (yes, I am going to link to Cleaver again), so they get on with it, and worry about the finer points of why things work (or not) later.

Still, it's a wonderful addition to my growing library of books on writing, among other things for this worthy sentiment:

'To write with taste, in the highest sense, is to write with the assumption that one out of a hundred people who read one's work may be dying, or have some loved one dying; to write so that no one commits suicide, no one despairs; to write, as Shakespeare wrote, so that people understand, sympathize, see the universality of pain, and feel strengthened, if not directly encouraged to live on.'


permanent link: the art of fiction - john gardner