Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The John Irving Theory of Everything

John Irving is one of my favorite authors of all time. I first read The 158-Pound Marriage when I was in high school and aspiring to weigh at least 150 pounds. Then I read Setting Free the Bears and noticed the regular appearance of bears in Irving’s works. Then I learned of Irving’s connection to the University of Iowa – I am from Sioux City!

Along came Garp. Garp, both of the book and the movie that followed. But before I had a chance to breathe, I fell in love with a hotel named New Hampshire, a cider house, and a circus. And let’s not forget Owen Meany!

Happiness floats!

Yet, despite my love of these amazing books, as an aspiring author the thing I most admired about John Irving was his statement that he wrote the ending first, and then he created the plot for his novel, a story that would reach that concluding line.

At first I couldn’t comprehend this system of writing. Yet, Irving confirmed it over and over, in interviews with The Economist, Book Forum, and even on his own website.

John Irving thinks differently. He writes in a creative, imaginative style. Starting from the end, first, and then from the beginning, next.

So unusual, so unique! Yet, in a sense, many other writers do exactly the same thing, but they just don't know it. I do it, yet I never realized it.

I envision the end of my book, and then begin to write. I imagine the finale, and then I strive to bring my characters to the point where they will say goodbye to the reader.

The goal of my writing career is to become a published author. I have desired this from the day I was born. My father, a journalist and editor, inspired me to write when I was just a boy. In my spare time, in high school and after getting married and starting a family – I wrote.

And I continue to write now, all the time and wherever I am. I was born to write.

Everything in my life has been leading me to my goal. I have been implementing John Irving's system of writing in my daily life.

I have yet to achieve my goal – where I want to be as a writer. But I am working at it.

This is the last line of this article – I wrote this piece to bring you to the end, and apparently I succeeded.

Originally published on The Oslo Times.


  1. An imaginative approach. Better yet, is a writer connecting and learning from his role model. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Not a novelist, but I often write a first sentence for a blog, and it ultimately becomes the last sentence.

  3. Bears, hotels, Berlin, wrestling...
    Sometimes I have written the ending and then writing towards it; it depends on the story. They all want to be told in different ways.

  4. Dear Ellis, Thanks for these insights. I too am a great fan of John Irving and have read almost all his books. I write, and like you have dreamed for many years of being a published author. My first book (published in 2010 by McClelland Stewart in Canada was for children). I have recently published 2 novels on Amazon, Smashwords etc. Is this cheating when you self publish? I hope not. You might want to try it yourself. It boosts the moral. As for starting with the ending . . . I might try it. Often I start with a title. Of course, I develop the story idea from there before I start writing. Sometimes I'm not sure exactly how the book will end until it tells me. My characters are my best assistants - sometimes my ghost writers.