Practical Writing Advice from Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett provides practical advice on writing in The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life.

I’ve written four books, numerous short stories and several screenplays. The questions I get most about writing are the practical ones. What do you write with? Where do you write? How do you find time to write?

Answers to these questions are supplied by novelist Ann Patchett in The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life. It’s like a FAQ for aspiring writers.

Do you need to get an MFA in Creative Writing? Not if it means going into debt, according the prudent Patchett.

Should you turn your desk away from the window, to avoid distractions? “Desk positioning does not a real writer make,” according to the author.

Are you really a writer? Spend one hour a day for thirty days writing to find out. Sit down and do the work. You’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish.

She also believes that writer’s block is a myth. If you were stumped by a complicated math problem, do you have math block? No, you’re still working on the problem, even if you have no evident progress.

Patchett also punctures the idea that “everyone has a great novel in them.” Would you say that everyone has a five-minute mile in them? Writing is a craft that must be learned.

Her description of plot is the best I’ve ever read:

The plot of a novel should be like walking down a busy city street: First there are all the other people around you, the dog walkers and the skateboarders, the couples fighting, the construction guys swearing and shouting, the pretty girl on teetering heels who causes those construction guys to turn around for a split second of silence. There are drivers hitting the brakes, diving birds slicing between buildings, and the suddenly ominous clouds banking to the west. All manner of action and movement is rushing towards you and away. But that isn’t enough. You should also have the storefronts at street level and the twenty stories of apartments full of people and their babies and their dreams. Below the street, there should be infrastructure: water, sewer, electricity. Maybe there’s a subway down there as well, and it’s full of people.

This rang true with me. A novel can’t be just about one thing. All your characters, even the most minor ones, are heading somewhere, pursuing their own destinies. They exist in a dynamic world and, if it’s a good novel, are worthy of stories of their own.

The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life is a Kindle Single. It’s a slim volume but at $2.99 is a bargain for anyone seeking answers on the craft of writing and the realities of the writing life.

Author: Joe Flood

Joe Flood is a writer and photographer from Washington, DC. He is the author of the mystery novel The Swamp, as well as articles, short stories and screenplays. In his spare time, he likes wandering about the city with a camera.

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