Ann Patchett: The Getaway Car (2011) A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life

In one of her wonderful Friday Five Series Jacquelin Cangro mentioned Ann Patchett’s essay The Getaway Car that is only available in e-book format. How lucky I just got a kindle for Christmas and could put it into use for the first time. I’m really grateful to Jacquelin for mentioning this essay as it may very well be one of the most wonderful pieces on writing that I have read in a long time. On some 50 pages Ann Patchett combines memoir with some advice that is useful to anyone who has ever thought of writing or who was interested in the process of writing. All the fans of Ann Patchett will love this little book as well, I’m sure. I haven’t read anything by Ann Patchett so far but I certainly will sooner or later.

There were a few elements in this book that I would like to mention, still, the take home message from this post should be – go and read it for yourself. It’s brilliant.

Ann Patchett writes about those wonderful pictures we have in our mind and as soon as we start to write them down, they start to look pale. Like pierced butterflies in display cases. What we need in order to over come the disappointment of not being able to capture our own images is forgiveness.

I believe that, more than anything else, this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers. Forgiveness, therefore, is key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing. Again and again throughout the course of my life I will forgive myself.

She writes about inspiration and that one of the most important works for her was Thomas Mann’s ZauberbergThe Magic Mountain that she read when she was very young.

I think what influences in literature comes less from what we love and more from what we happen to pick up in a moment when we are especially open.

She loved it so much that all of her own novels reproduce that basic plot of

a group of strangers being thrown together by circumstances and form a society in confinement.

She also writes about writing chronologically, about chapters and pacing and writer’s block which doesn’t exist, according to her. She does write about MFA’s and whether it is possible to learn creative writing. This is especially interesting for Europeans who, I think, frown when they hear someone has taken courses in creative writing or even acquired a MFA.

Something I found valuable as well is her take on research.

As much as I love doing research, I also know that it provides a spectacular place to hide. It’s easy to convince myself that I can’t start to write my book until I’ve read ten other books, or gone to ten other places and the next thing I know a year has gone by.

Here lies the answer to why she thinks there is no such thing as writer’s block but procrastination.

It’s a short essay but it’s very well written and contains a world of valuable suggestions and stories of her own life.