Sunday, June 23, 2013

Writing: A "Miserable, Awful Business"

"Writing is a miserable, awful business. Stay with it. It is better than anything in the world." 

Ann Patchett, one of my favorite writers, offers this paradoxical charge at the end of The Getaway Car, a Kindle single I recently read.

I have pondered these words as I've debated whether or not to participate in Teachers Write, 2013, the online professional development children's author Kate Messner began last summer.

The Teachers Write group is bulging with over 1,000 members. Will devoting time to actively participating in the group be the best use of my limited time this summer? That's the question I keep asking myself.

In truth, were it not for Kate, Jo Knowles, Gae Polisner and Teachers Write 2012, I'd still be languishing on the couch rather than actually producing the rough hewn elements of what I hope will be a YA novel some day.

In honor of Kate, Jo, Gae, and the many guest authors who have committed to giving so much of their time again this summer to wanna-be writers such as myself, I'm sharing some of my favorite passages from Ann Patchett's Kindle Single.

Even if I'm not actively posting in the TW group, I'll be learning on the fringe and writing in the shadows and thinking about writers and writing.

From The Getaway Car:
  • Living a life is not the same as writing a book. (loc 96)
  • Only a few of us are going to be willing to break our own hearts by trading in the living beauty of imagination for the stark disappointment of words. (loc 107)
  • On the importance of a thoughtful critic and reader: I had so assimilated her critical voice that I was able to bring the full weight of her intelligence to bear on my work without her actually needing to be in the room...Before long I was able to think the sentence, anticipate her critique of it, and decide against it, all without ever uncapping my pen. I called this "editing myself off the page." (loc118)
  • The art of writing comes way down the line, as does the art of interpreting Bach. Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means that to get to the art, you must master the craft. 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 how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say. Write the story, learn from it, put it away, write another story. (loc 140)
  • People like to ask me if writing can be taught, and I say yes. I can teach you how to write a better sentence, how to write a dialogue, maybe even how to construct a plot. But I can't teach you how to have something to say. (loc 184)
  • An essential element of being a writer is learning whom to listen to and whom to ignore wheere your work is concerned. (loc 239)
  • The part of my brain that makes art and the part that judges that art had to be separated. While I was writing, I was not allowed to judge. That was the law. (loc 400)
  • Chapters are like the foot pedals on a piano; they give you another level of control. Short chpters can speed the book along, while long chapters can deepen intensity. (loc 443)
  • No matter what you may have heard, the characters don't write their story. Oh, people love to believe that, and certain writers love to tell it... (loc 465)
  • Writer's block is a myth. (loc 476)
  • I have a habit of ranking everything in my life that needs doing. The thing I least want to do is number one on the list, and that is almost always writing fiction. (loc 486)
  • The more we are willing to separate from distraction and step into the open arms of boredom, the more writing will get on the page. (loc 497)
I'm not sure I want to spend the summer immersed in the miserable, awful business of writing, but I'm eternally grateful for the many writers who do and who graciously devote their time and expertise to those of us beckoning our inner writer to put pen to paper as we breathe inky life into our ideas. 

And if you like reading about writing, I unhesitatingly recommend downloading The Getaway Car and learning more about Ann Patchett's writing process and how she wrote and found a publisher for her first novel. 

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