Tag Archives: Roger Rosenblatt

Ann Patchett: Write What You Want To Learn

Ann Patchett, 2016 Photo by M. Snider

Ann Patchett, 2016
Photo by M. Snider

As a writer, I was grateful to listen to Roger Rosenblatt interview Anne Patchett, a woman of candor, on her writing process during the 4th day of Road Scholar’s Creative Expression conversations. “Write what you know,” is a bedrock adage among writers. Au Contraire, Anne Patchett takes risks in her choices. She writes on subjects she wants to explore and about which she wants to learn.

“Inspiration was a real thing to me when I was eighteen, and my analogy at this point is inspiration is a match,” Patchett said. “You’ve got to have a match,” she continued, “ but, at fifty-two years old, I have spent my life in a warm house. You don’t spend your life in a warm house because of a match. You spend your life in a warm house because of your ability to get up and split wood.”

Huh, I thought, split wood? What is she saying? The analogy goes to her belief that writing is all about going to work and the experience of fueling what evolves. She explained, “I think if I sit around and wait for someone to whisper in my ears, I would get a lot of knitting done.”

Patchett approaches her novels by developing the characters first. In the Magician’s Assistant, she envisioned a magician in a tuxedo and his assistant in a sequin dress, because it was “sort of sexy. “I was halfway through the book when I realized I knew nothing about magic, and then I stopped and I did a bunch of research,” she said.

To my amusement, she said, “ What I discovered was that I hated magic. I was writing a book about magic and I never thought about it beyond how my characters would look on stage.” I leaned in as she spoke of how she confronted what she did not know. To my mind, she went far beyond “chopping wood” in that the woodpile is visible; whereas, in the development of characters and their plot, one needs to mine the invisible. I write nonfiction and cannot imagine myself writing a work of fiction  about a character who dies in the first sentence of the book.

Patchett spoke of her nonfiction book, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. Divorced after a year of marriage, Patchett was reluctant to marry a second time. She dated her current husband for eleven years and decided to marry only when he became very ill. Pragmatic to the core, she decided that as his girlfriend, she could not make critical decisions regarding his health. They married. “Six weeks later, he was totally fine.” She mused, “I don’t know if I would have gotten married if it wasn’t for that.”

In reading the reviews, it’s clear that in contrast to fiction, Patchett shaped the book about what she knew— her marriage, her bookstore, her writing. I was grateful to learn that she was open to writing in a new genre and to dig into learning how to evolve her story as a memoir. I’ve added it to my list.


Growth: While I’m Away

Lily Buds, June, 2016

Lily Buds, June, 2016

During the week of of June 26th, Marv and I will at Chautauqua, New York, attending a week-long program titled Roger Rosenblatt and Friends: On Creative Expression. It’s our third summer experience trip to Chautauqua through Road Scholar.

Every morning, I’ll be joining up to 5,000 folks— some from Road Scholar but mostly folk who book a vacation or come for the day — at Chautauqua’s open air Amphitheater. Roger Rosenblatt is a witty and delightful writer and raconteur who takes you right into the heart of things as he interviews each guest.

For example, the first morning, he will interview, Jane Pauley, author of Skywriting, A Life Out of the Blue and Gary Trudeau, creator of Doonesbury. On the second day, he’s booked Lorin Stein, editor-in-chief of The Paris Review, Pamela Paul, Editor of the New York Times Book Review, and David Lynn, Editor of The Kenyon Review.

To say that I am grateful for this opportunity is an understatement. The remainder of the presenter schedule will include songwriters Alan and Marilyn Bergman, songwriters, Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto and Alan Alda, actor and author. It’s my habit to take notes and my hope is to share some of my learning and observations on creative expression in the summer blogs to come.

While I’m away, I would like to share some of my go-to readings, blogs and podcasts on mindfulness and gratitude in the hope that you might be inspired to dip in and begin or widen your gratitude practice.

Books and Magazines

  • Campbell, Don & Doman, Alex, Healing At The Speed of Sound
  • Emmons, Robert A., Thanks
  • Krech, Gregg, Naikan
  • Macy, Joanna & Johnstone, Chris, Active Hope
  • mindful magazine, taking time for what matters, http://www.mindful.org

Blogs and Web pages

I’m grateful for your taking time to read this blog and especially for the inspiration that you, as a reader, bring to me. The promise of connection and the possibility of sharing the everyday possibilities of gratitude is ever- present and helps to keep me alert and mindful of what enlivens and enriches my life. For this blog, marking the summer Solstice, I chose the picture of my lily beds filled with growing shoots. They are imbued with the promise of July blossoms and posts of creative expression.