Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ann Patchett on the PRACTICE of Writing

Patchett: No getaway
from practice.
A nifty outfit called Byliner is publishing excellent original e-titles in miniature, and Ann Patchett's memoir, part writer's craft, part subtle encouragement, part autobiography is more than a bargain at $2.99 for the "Kindle single."

The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir about Writing and Life weighs in at 195 KBs and is meant to be read in one sitting. But you'll want to spend many sittings with this little book, not least for the support Patchett offers aspiring writers, and the no-nonsense "get back on track, you nitwit" advice she dishes out. When you stray, she reminds us, remember: Good writing comes down to practice:

"It turns out that the distance from head to hand, from wafting butterfly to entemological specimen, is achieved through regular, disciplined practice. What begins as something like a dream will in fact stay a dream forever unless you have the tools and discipline to bring it out." 


"If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish but because you long to learn to write well, because there is something that you alone can say. Write the story, learn from it, put it away, write another story. Think of a sink pipe filled with sticky sediment: the only way to get clean water is to force a small ocean through the tap. Most of us are full up with bad stories, boring stories, self-indulgent stories, searing works of unendurable melodrama. We must get them all out of our system...

You've heard the advice a thousand times, but maybe never as eloquently, as Patchett keeps circling back to it in widening gyres.

And now here's a funny story that happened to a blogging friend of mine, Joanna Marple, and a famous children's author, Kathleen Duey, only this week:

Duey: Go forth
and Tweet no more.
Duey tweeted a cry for help in the form of a contest: Would fellow twitterers please tell her something that would make her get back to work?

Because Duey was procrastinating, she couldn't seem to focus, her mind was a billion miles away from her work-in-progress.

Duey said she would choose the best advice she got and give the winning tweeter a 30-minute page critique. So Duey got dozens (I don't know, maybe hundreds, maybe thousands) of entries. Kind tweets, stern tweets, wise tweets, snarky tweets, earnest tweets. But she finally picked Joanna's. Which read, in full: "To quote a friend, 'the secret to writing novels is to get off Twitter.'"

And nary a tweet has been heard from Kathleen Duey, YA fantasy writer, since.



  1. Ha! And here I am, having just started Twittering a week ago. Thanks for the Getaway Car tip. Looks like a great read.

  2. "Most of us are full up with bad stories, boring stories, self-indulgent stories, searing works of unendurable melodrama. We must get them all out of our system..." What a great quote and how true!!! And yes, I guess we all need practice. Don't they say it takes 10,000 hours to begin to master something (or something like that?)

  3. Gail, thanks, you tied my luck in so well with your blog post today as Kathleen has so put in her 10,000+ hours I am sure!

  4. I just purchased The Getaway Car last week on Kindle. I am currently reading her memoir Truth & Beauty, which I love. Was told by several that I need to read Bel Canto, too. Luckily, it is sitting on one of my shelves.

  5. This is a delightful post. I love the quotes, and that last tale you shared just made me lol.

  6. @MG: I know, I've just started using twitter in earnest myself--and I can already see what a time suck it is.
    @Susanna, I LOVED this quote too.
    @Susan: Bel Canto is beautiful. I haven't read her new novel yet.
    @Joanna, I want to hear more about your critique; I hope you blog about it.
    @Donna, thank you. I'm amusing myself today too. Tee hee.

  7. Gail,

    Someone on Twitter (how ironic is that?) alerted me to this blog. It's lovely! Thanks for including my goofy plea for help getting off twitter here! The line "The secret to writing novels is to get off twitter" is almost always my daily twitter exit line. So Joanna's tweet stood out from all the others because she cleverly quoted me to ME, and it was impossible not to blush,laugh at myself AND get to work. YAY!

    I hope to repay her with the critique.

    Good wishes to everyone and happy writing!! May the words fly out.

  8. Ah, Kathleen, I missed the heart of the joke--I didn't know she was quoting YOU. That makes it even better. Cheers and happy writing.