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She knew she wanted to write before she knew how to tie her shoes
on August 29, 2011
As improbable as it may seem, Ann Patchett knew she wanted to be a writer at about the same time she was learning how to ride a tricycle. "I may have been shaky about tieing my shoes and telling time, but I was sure about my career, and I consider this certainty the greatest gift of my life."
In "The Getaway Car" Patchett writes with verve and sparkle about what that decision to become a writer has meant to her and how she went about fulfilling her unwavering ambition.
The getaway car in the title is a reference to the novel she was thinking about at the time she was working as a waitress. That novel was to be her getaway car to get her away from the restaurant for good. "The Patron Saint of Liars" became that novel.
Part autobiography, part primer for people who are or want to be writers, "The Getaway Car" is a whopping good way to get instruction from someone who grew up being very good at what she does.
Here are a couple tips:
Be linear: "Even if you're writing a book that jumps around in time, has ten points of view and is chest deep in flashback, do your best to write in the order in which it will be read, because it will make the writing, and the later editing, incalculably easier."
Revise aloud: "One method of revision that I find both loathsome and indispensable is reading my work aloud when I'm finished. There are things I can hear - the repetition of words, a particularly flat sentence - that I don't otherwise catch."
Come up with 10 titles: Develop a list of ten alternatives. "Do it fast. Don't think about it too much." Type each of the ten on a separate piece of paper. Tape pages to wall. On your own, or with friends, eliminate the one you like least. Pull off more pages until you've narrowed the field to the one you like best.
And what not to do. "I am diligent in my avoidance of all talismans, rituals, and superstitions." Patchett writes about becoming a "crazy person" with a computer solitaire problem. She'd tell herself her writing day could not begin until she had won a game. That behavior escalated. Soon she had to win a game every time she left her desk and came back again. After she had it removed from her computer she continued to miss it every day for two years. Habits, avoid them.
In addition to things practical about writing, Patchett can dispense wisdom. Writing she says can be taught, but no one can teach another person how to have something to say. And that's what separates one writer from another. Patchett definitely has something to say and that's what makes "The Getaway Car" a separate and enticing read.
(It enticed me enough to download "Bel Canto" immediately. I figure it's time for me to listen to all those people who have been telling me to read the novel even though I protested that I know nothing about opera. Before writing "Bel Canto" neither did Patchett, they tell me.)