On Writing: “I can’t teach you how to have something to say.”

Here are a few more gems — I know it’s been a while — from Ann Padgett’s “The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir about Writing and Life.” You’ll find it in This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage (New York: Harper, 2013, pp. 19-60), which you should buy — or borrow from the library — and read.

If you write.

Writing must not be compartmentalized. You don’t step out of the stream of your life to do your work. Work was the life, and who you were as a mother, teacher, friend, citizen, activist, and artist was all the same person. People like to ask me if writing can be taught, and I say yes. I can teach you how to write a better sentence, how to write dialogue, maybe even how to construct a plot. But I can’t teach you how to have something to say. (pp. 31-32)

Ann Padgett on Writing: “Imagine running over a butterfly with an SUV”

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

Logic dictates that writing should be a natural act, a function of a well-operating human body, along the lines of speaking and walking and breathing. We should be able to tap into the constant narrative flow our minds provide, the roaring river of words filling up our heads, and direct it out into a neat stream of organized thoughts so that other people can read it. Look at what we already have going for us: some level of education, which has given us control of written and spoken language; the ability to use a computer or a pencil; and an imagination that naturally turns the events of our lives into stories that are both true and false. We all have ideas, sometimes good ones, not to mention the gift of emotional turmoil that every childhood provides. In short, the story is in us, and all we have to do is sit there and write it down.

But it’s right about there, right about when we sit down to write that story, that things fall apart. (p. 21)

Novelists Writing Essays . . . and a Novel

I had an hour to kill in a university bookstore a while back. The results were more less predictable. I read several pages each in two books of essays and was hooked.

I’m been working my way through them both, reading an essay now and then. I’m enjoying both so much that I don’t really want to finish anytime soon. I’m not in too much danger of that, either. I keep going back to savor essays I’ve already read: both the writing and the thought — not that the two can be separated.

Novelist Marilynne Robinson, of whose fiction I have read exactly none, has enraptured me with her collection of essays entitled When I Was a Child I Read Books. She takes up large, serious topics, like politics, society, Christianity, and individualism. I think she’ll take up the American West somehow, in essays I haven’t read yet. So far her writing serves her themes very well; this is not a small thing.

I’ve read as much of Ann Patchett‘s fiction as I have of Marilynne Robinson’s. Her writing and thought have an irresistible personal charm and candor; in fact, these essays are part memoir. The book is called This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, after the title of one essay. (That story is quite a story, to be sure.) Other essays are about reading, writing, books, and topics I haven’t yet discovered.

When I want to savor rich writing, but I’m in a mood for fiction, lately I’ve been turning to Richard Russo‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning Empire Falls. I picked it up on remainder or at a library sale somewhere, because I saw it as a miniseries years ago and found it charming. The writing is dense and rich so far. The long, pseudo-historical Prologue — annoyingly set all in italics — is something to savor. I suppose a prologue ought to be that good, if it is to exist. I don’t resent the existence of this one at all.

(Links to books in this post are to my Amazon store. Purchases help to support this site. But libraries are great, too. So is Barnes and Noble. And Powell’s. And Sam Weller’s. And so forth.)