Reading Recommendation: The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life

The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life*
By Ann Patchett
Publisher: Byliner

Summary from Amazon:

“The journey from the head to the hand is perilous and lined with bodies. It is the road on which nearly everyone who wants to write—and many of the people who do write—get lost.”

So writes Ann Patchett in “The Getaway Car”, a wry, wisdom-packed memoir of her life as a writer. Here, for the first time, one of America’s most celebrated authors (“State of Wonder”, “Bel Canto”, “Truth and Beauty”), talks at length about her literary career—the highs and the lows—and shares advice on the craft and art of writing. In this fascinating look at the development of a novelist, we meet Patchett’s mentors (Allan Gurganas, Grace Paley, Russell Banks), see where she made wrong turns (poetry), and learn how she gets the pages written (an unromantic process of pure hard work). Woven through engaging anecdotes from Patchett’s life are lessons about writing that offer an inside peek into the storytelling process and provide a blueprint for anyone wanting to give writing a serious try. The bestselling author gives pointers on everything from finding ideas to constructing a plot to combating writer’s block. More than that, she conveys the joys and rewards of a life spent reading and writing.

“What I like about the job of being a novelist, and at the same time what I find so exhausting about it, is that it’s the closest thing to being God that you’re ever going to get,” she writes. “All of the decisions are yours. You decide when the sun comes up. You decide who gets to fall in love…”

This is a terrific, quick read that I recommend for anyone who wants to write or enjoys reading about writers and how they write. One thing that struck me is that Ann really emphasizes how much work writing is. I get a little tired of all the “let’s baby our muses” talk, the lighting of candles and playing of the just right music. Sit down and write already. Or as Ann puts it:

It turns out that the distance from head to hand, from wafting butterfly to entomological specimen, is achieved through regular, disciplined practice.

Yeah. She says it better than I do. Then there’s this:

Why is it that we understand that playing the cello will require work but we relegate writing to the magic of inspiration?

And the Pièce de résistance:

Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means that to get to the art, you must master craft. If you want to write, practice writing.

Of course, it’s not all hard work for our Ann. Let’s visit the section where she acquires her agent. In summary: At twenty, Ann publishes her first short story in The Paris Review. An agent reads and calls soon after. Cue riding off into the sunset together.

Yes. I know. At this point, writers may want to do the reading equivalent of covering their ears and singing (off-key) “La, la, la, I can’t hear you.”

Because, really, all that’s missing from that scenario is Ricardo Montalban, resplendent in a white suit and pink, fruity drinks garnished with tiny, paper umbrellas. Ditto for the sale of her first book.

Even so, it’s clear the amount of work Ann put into that first book, and into her writing in general. Near the end of the piece, she writes about a period of time when she wasn’t writing and relates a bit of advice from musician friend: create a sign-in sheet and write down the time you start working (writing) and then the time you stop. Or as Ann puts it:

Time applied equaled work completed.

Sometimes this is a lesson we have to learn over and over again.

In brief, The Getaway Car is highly enjoyable and I recommend it to both writers and fans of Ann Patchett (bonus points if you happen to be both).

*Personal copy bought for my Kindle

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Reading, Reading & Writing, Writing

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