My friend K— is always a reliable source for book recommendations, and about seven years ago, she suggested that I read Bel Canto. I checked the paperback out of the library. It was my first Ann Patchett book. Not only was I instantly captured by her writing, but I remember the setting and the plot were different from anything I had ever read.
Whenever I find a new author (new to me anyways), I research their list of publications and start to work my way through each book. After Bel Canto, I read The Patron Saint of Liars and then State of Wonder. State of Wonder haunts me and stays with me still.
Patchett writes about the human experience and connections in traditional and non-traditional settings. I think I find her books so powerful because she creates such vivid characters with real struggles, mistakes, and pain.
I continued to read my way through her work, and then I tried to figure out how she does it— how she creates those stories that hold my heart and sit in my chest as I turn to the last page.
The Getaway Car is an essential book about writing. In just about 50 pages, she covers inspiration, discipline, feedback, revising, and more.
I was surprised to read that, when she is first developing a story, she doesn’t write anything down.
“During the months (or years) it takes me to put my ideas together, I don’t take notes or make outlines; I’m figuring things out…”
Her first book was a year of plotting in her head before she wrote a word.
(I’ve tried this method, but I found that the words would scratch at my brain until I wrote them down, or I would lose the idea altogether. This is also why my entire house is covered in post-it notes.)
Patchett does emphasize that the time of developing in her head must be followed with consistent writing time.
“What begins as something like a dream will in fact stay a dream forever unless you have the tools and the discipline to bring it out.”
…and I tell you all of this because I just finished her latest fiction book Commonwealth. It is a work of art. I hope you will add it to your reading list.
Patchett’s work reminds me why I love reading so much. It is the moment where you read a phrase that expresses a feeling, experience, or a relationship just right. As a reader, I nod my head and say, “YES”, as if sitting with the author over coffee, “you totally get it… this living we’re all trying to do. Thank you.”