Ann Padgett on Writing: “I Learned How to Forgive Myself”

From Ann Padgett’s “The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir about Writing and Life” (This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. New York: Harper, 2013, pp. 19-60)

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

Art stands on the shoulders of craft. If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say. Write the story, learn from it, put it away, write another story. Think of a a sink pipe filled with sticky sediment. The only way to get clean water is to force a small ocean through the tap. Most of us are full up with bad stories, boring stories, self-indulgent stories, searing works of unendurable melodrama. We must get all of them out of our system in order to find the good stories that may or may not exist in the freshwater underneath.

. . . I got better at closing the gap between my hand and my head by clocking in the hours, stacking up the pages. Somewhere in all my years of practice, I don’t know where exactly, I arrived at the art. I never learned how to take the beautiful thing in my imagination and put it on paper without feeling I killed it along the way. I did, however, learn how to weather the death, and I learned how to forgive myself for it.

. . . I believe, more than anything, that this grief of constantly having to face down our inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers. Forgiveness, therefore, is the 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. (pp. 28-30)

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