Ann Patchett On Writing: Killing The Butterfly

Staff_Ann_FinalAnn Patchett is one of my favourite writers. If she’s not one of yours, you probably haven’t read her, yet… She won the Orange Prize with the (astounding) Bel Canto, but all of her books are brilliant.

In last week’s C.L. Taylor interview, I mangled a quote from Ann Patchett and it inspired me to re-read the essay I had half-remembered.

It’s the best, most truthful description of the writing process that I have ever read.

Patchett spends months thinking about her novel before she starts writing. She doesn’t make notes or an outline, she figures things out in her mind and says that this is her favourite part of the process.

‘This book I haven not yet written one word of is a thing of undescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its colour, so wild and loyal in its nature that my love for this book, and my faith in it as I track its lazy flight, is the single perfect joy in my life… 

When I can’t think of another stall, when putting it off has actually become more painful than doing it, I reach up and pluck the butterfly from the air. I take it from the region of my head and I press it down against my desk, and there, with my own hand, I kill it. It’s not that I want to kill it, but it’s the only way I can get something that is so three-dimensional onto the flat page. Just to make sure the job is done I stick it into place with a pin. Imagine running over a butterfly with an SUV. Everything that was beautiful about this living thing – all the colour, the light and movement – is gone. What I’m left with is the dry husk of my friend, the broken body chipped, dismantled, and poorly reassembled. Dead. That’s my book.’

The whole essay is wonderful. You can purchase it as a standalone:

The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life

Or, along with lots of other great essays, in

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage

What do you think? Does this description of the process ring true for you? Let me know if you have a different take (or favourite writing quote – I love a good writing quote!). 

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Episode #04 The Worried Writer: A Conversation with thriller author C.L. Taylor

ww_ep4_imageIn this episode I chat with Cally Taylor about hopping genre, developing craft through short stories, getting the writing bug, and typing while walking on a treadmill.

Cally Taylor wrote two sparkling romantic comedies, Heaven Can Wait and Home For Christmas, before turning to dark psychological suspense under the name C.L. Taylor. The first of these, The Accident, was hugely successful, shooting up the Kindle charts and selling over 150,000 copies in the UK alone. Last year, Home For Christmas was made into a film by JumpStart Productions and, since this interview was recorded, Cally’s second thriller, The Lie, has shot up the bestseller charts.

For more on Cally and her books, visit her website CLTaylorauthor.com or follow her on Twitter @callytaylor

Books recommended by Cally:

Into The Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them by John Yorke

The Story Book: A Writer’s Guide to Story Development, Principles, Problem-solving and Marketing by David Baboulene

Cally mentions the importance of taking ‘artist dates’ as recommended by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity

Also, I mention that my debut novel, The Language of Spells is now available in paperback (meep!)


and I recommend a book I’ve been enjoying this week: The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

 

Listener question:

This episode’s listener question comes from Maggie Jones – thanks, Maggie!

‘How ‘sucky’ can a book be when you send it in?!’

‘This question is definitely something I struggle with as I have very little confidence in my own work and never feel that something is good enough or even safely passed the ‘it sucks’ stage.

And therein lies the problem. We are probably not the best people to judge the suckiness or otherwise of our work.

Also, it’s worth remembering that ‘sucky’ is a subjective term. I think it might have been Jenny Crusie who said ‘your book is not a $100 bill, not everyone is going to like it’ and that is so true.

There may be published books that you don’t like, that other people love.

So, a book’s merit is a subjective thing. There is no opposite to ‘sucky’ which is ‘perfect’, only opinion on what is good or bad or fun to read or boring.

Once you’ve accepted that there isn’t an ideal you can achieve before sending your work out, you only have to ensure that it’s as good as you can make it.

Whether you’re sending your book to an agent, an editor or hitting ‘publish’ yourself to put it into the Amazon store, there are steps you can take to make sure that it’s ready.

Things like finishing it first, and rewriting it as much as you can stand to get it into the best possible shape. You can also get perspective through feedback from critique partners or by letting it rest before you edit for a final time. Four to six weeks is a good amount of time to leave it, so that when you come back to it you can see it anew. When I do this, I find I can detach my writer self from the reader, and I often find there are plenty of things I like – and have forgotten writing. It’s like magic. It also makes the dull or awkward or confusing parts glaringly obvious.

I hope that helps, Maggie. Thanks again for the great question.’

Got a question about writing or creativity?

If you’ve got a writing-related question that you’d like featured on the show, please don’t hesitate to ask.

I’ll answer it on the show and credit you (unless, of course, you ask to remain anonymous).

Please spread the word and, if you can spare the time, leave a rating for the show on iTunes. It would really help me!

Thank you for listening!

 

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