Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The lesson I've learned from John Irving

Recently, I was reading something online and followed a link in the story to something else, and then found another link I followed, and then had a question that I googled... oh come on, you've done the same thing too, I'm sure you have.
John Irving (photo from his website)
In any event, I apologize to the sources of the first few stories ... I can't quite remember how many links there were...  but I ended up reading a Q&A in the Economist from last summer, with John Irving.  You know, the author of The World According to Garp, and The Cider House Rules, and Hotel New Hampshire,  and a bunch of other novels.  
And I'll stop here with a confession... although I certainly know who John Irving is, and I was familiar with the titles of some of his books, I've never read any of them.  But back to my on-line wanderings... from the Economist site, I googled Mr. Irving, and went to his website.. nothing like the horse's mouth, and all that.. and I found the following:
WHOA!  He ALWAYS begins with the END????  That can't be right.  Maybe it's a figure of speech, or a euphemism, or a typo or something.
So I finished reading that page of his website, and discovered that it was none of those things.  Irving meant exactly what he said.  He went on to say that he often has several ideas bouncing around in his head.  He decides which one to use - not based on trends, or book sales, or even which idea has been bouncing around for the longest, but - based on which one has the most clear ending.
Those who know me, or follow my blog, know that I dabble in writing, mostly by taking part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) each November.  I've only been doing this for a few years, I have nothing published, I'm not sure I care about ever being published, but I like to think I'm getting a bit better at it each year, and most importantly, I enjoy doing it.  Last year, as usual, I began tossing around some ideas in advance of November, so that when November 1 rolled around, I could jump right in.  Without warning, on a pre-November day, the ENDING popped into my head.  And I couldn't get it out of my head.  This is NOT how I do things.  I don't write everything in order, but I begin with the beginning, and I discover the end, near the end.
As I started writing the beginning last year and worked my way through the middle, I  tried to change direction... I truly did...  but no matter what I tried, I was clearly heading for the ending that had occurred to me, before I started the beginning.
So I pouted.
But I still couldn't get the ending out of my head.  And finally, I gave in, and used that ending.
Now, I read John Irving's comments, and I wonder if I've had it wrong, all along.  Maybe I'm SUPPOSED to begin with the end.  Maybe last year was the first time I did it right.
So I've added a couple of his books to my 'to-read' list, and I'll try to get to at least one of them, before I begin preparations for NaNoWriMo 2013.  And I'm open to the possibility that I've been doing it wrong all this time.
Thank you Mr. Irving.  You've given me a lot to think about, as I drink my tea this morning.


  1. The one year the 'instigating event' of my NaNo suggested an ending, I learned it's fun writing toward that target. It helped me decide on directions, etc.

    But I disagree that you've been "doing it wrong." You did what worked for you at the time. That's how it goes with this writing gig - you do what works. A given technique may not work next year, next month, or even tomorrow, but that doesn't mean you can't use it now.

  2. I haven't looked at them all yet, but as I came across this thought it in line with the blog

    oh, hang on, I didn't attempt any humour there ... How about - I tried one of these English Breakfast teas once. It was such a rip off there was no taste of bacon whatsoever.