Ann Patchett’s lessons on writing, from Byliner


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Ann Patchett is the author of this summer’s bestselling ‘State of Wonder,’ which followed 2001’s ‘Bel Canto,’ which won the Orange Prize. The author has compiled many of her thoughts on writing into a single interesting, sometimes contradictory piece, ‘The Getaway Car,’ published Monday by Byliner.

‘The Getaway Car’ was published by Byliner as a Kindle single and is available for $2.99 from Amazon. Byliner, which publishes stand-alone nonfiction, launched in April with Jon Krakauer’s ‘Three Cups of Deceit’ and has published electronic stories from William T. Vollman, Tad Friend, Jamie Malanowski and others. Krakauer’s story, which posed serious questions about Greg Mortenson’s memoir and his charity’s work, is now also available in print.


There’s a little something for every hopeful writer in Patchett’s ‘The Getaway Car.’ Patchett discusses, among other things, loving writing while also hating it, creative writing MFAs (she has one from Iowa, but that doesn’t mean she’s a fan), when do to research, writers Elizabeth McCracken and Raymond Chandler, what she says when people ask her how to get an agent, procrastination, reading aloud, and waitressing at TGI Friday’s.

These fragments of writing advice are all taken from her piece.

A deep, early love of poetry should be mandatory for all writers. Most of us are full up with bad stories, boring stories, self-indulgent stories, searing works of unendurable melodrama. We must get all of them our of our system in order to find the good stories that may or may not exist in the fresh water underneath. You don’t step out of the stream of your life to do your work. Novel writing, I soon discovered, is like channel swimming: a slow and steady stroke over a long distance in a cold, dark sea. The ability to write and the ability to teach are not the same, and while I’ve known plenty of people who could do both, there are also plenty of people who can do only one or the other, and plenty who do both who should be doing neither.

Interested in being a better writer? Go buy yourself a copy of ‘The Collected Stories’ by Grace Paley. If we could learn everything we needed to know about writing fiction by seeing it masterfully executed, we could just stay in bed and read Chekhov. The answer to how important a master of fine arts degree is to becoming a fiction writer is, of course, not at all. No one should ever go into debt to study creative writing. If you wind up boring yourself, you can pretty much bank on the fact that you’re going to bore your reader. As far as I’m concerned, writer’s block is a myth. Do you want to do this thing? Sit down and do it.

Sometimes Patchett’s ideas seem to contradict each other, but context matters. In ‘The Getaway Car,’ they ebb and flow. She shares her evolution as a writer, from childhood through college and graduate school and on to being a professional -- first waitress, then author. An excerpt is online now.


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Book review: Ann Patchett’s ‘State of Wonder’

Janet Fitch’s 10 Rules for Writers

-- Carolyn Kellogg