Looking to check out a new media format, the Kindle Single, I came across Ann Patchett’s long essay The Getaway Car.
I bought it for $3 and was reading away on my sleak Kindle Fire moments later. (Impulse purchasing = Danger!)
In this case, the purchase was well worth it. The highly regarded novelist tells her story—every writer has a different one. Patchett, in easy, conversational prose (it kind of reads like a long email to an acquaintance), traces her course from a girl who knew she wanted to be a writer pretty much since she became conscious of being conscious, through college, the Iowa writing program, skipping over a brief marriage, work as a waitress at TGIFridays where she made up stories in her head, to teaching writing, through the actual creation of her first novel, The Patron Saint of Liars.
She is engaging and eminently sensible and outlines her own version of the only true thing aspiring writers need to know. You only become a writer by writing. Everyday. By sitting still and writing and if you cant sit still and write for long enough to get something done, then you can’t. It’s hard. No doubt.
We share the same opinion of “writer’s block.” Her term for it is “putting it off.” I call it a lie. Either that or cocktail hour.
Some of the best passages in the book are about her teachers, what each one taught her, eminent figures such as Russell Banks, Geoffrey Wolff (loved his memoir Duke of Deception) and Grace Paley (Patchett was damned luck to study under such good writers).
The best book on writing, by far, is Stephen King’s On Writing, part memoir, part writing seminar. I’ve yet to make it through an entire Stephen King novel, but this book is fabulous. (And fyi to aspiring food writers, here’s a post on my advice, which boils down to “First, learn to write.” Also a post on my mentor and what he taught me.)
Patchett’s experience and advice, again, is more essay than book, a perfect length for a Single. I recommend it. I won’t give anything away by quoting the final lines: “Writing is a miserable, awful business. Stay with it. It is better than anything.”
And feel free to suggest other books on writing. I love talking shop.