Skip to content

Reflections of a working writer and reader



Improvident writers

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. Not all writers have exactly these same virtues, of course. Occasionally one finds one who is not abnormally improvident.

John Gardner

Comments are open . . .

7 Responses to “Improvident writers”

  1. Pearl says:

    Good, I’m excused then. 🙂

    jb says: Hi Pearl. Is that from your t-shirt?

  2. Jim Winter says:

    I am NOT immature! What does John Gardner know?! [Jim stomps off to room, slams door, and buries himself in his copy of DIRTY JOKES AND BEER]

    jb says: We know that, Jim. Gardner, always trying to upset people . . .

  3. My God, John.
    What a mouthful…

    oh..oh…I sweared… :}

    jb says: Hi Susan. Yes, they are often foul-mouthed, too.

  4. Jamie says:

    I remember reading this. Crap. Which was it Art of Fiction or On Becoming a Novelist? (so much for the memory)

    Either way, I ran right out afterward and had a few beers and a pizza and then I spent the next few hours talking about what it was like to be a writer with someone who couldn’t care less. When we got back to home, she told me that she didn’t care a whit about writing but she wanted me to shut the hell up about it and do some if it was so god-awful important and wonderful. Well, being a proper gentleman, I married that one. Ah, there is nothing so vengeful as a writer willing to marry.

    jb says: You don’t recognise anything, then, in the Gardner quote, Jamie?

  5. Jamie says:

    Me? Well maybe just a little. Oh hell, might as well post my picture next to it. I am this quote. The “crap” above was me talking to myself. I couldn’t remember where I read it. Can you post the reference, John?

    jb says: I thought it was The Art of Fiction, but I can’t find it now. I’ll keep looking.

  6. Jamie says:

    On Becoming a Novelist, page 34. Thank you Evil Google Book Search! 🙂

    jb says: I wasn’t even looking there. I could have sworn  . . .

  7. Rico Josua says:

    For some unfathomable reason, every time I think of posting a quote from a book in my blog, I believe (against good reason and past experience) that I will be the first to do it.

    So, here I am again, commenting on someonelse’s blog about a quote, that, however briefly, seemed to be owned solely by me!

    On the bright side of the matter, it is always refreshing to find out that I am not Alone (one of those feelings that take a long time to sink in from our brains to our hearts (how corny can I become?(how self-counscious can I get?))) and that something that resonates with me, also resonates with other people.



    jb says: Hi Rico. You are not alone. Well, I don’t want to lie to you. You are sometimes.