Last night I heard Ann Patchett read from her new book State of Wonder at Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee. The store was packed and readers were excited to hear this book group favorite talk about her life, writing and books. As a writer and writing coach, I was most interested in hearing about Patchett’s writing process. She did not disappoint me.
Writing Schedule. Patchett confessed to not writing daily. Patchett plots her books in her head. As she begins to write, she works on the book for short spurts each day. After she gets into a book and especially toward the end, Patchett writes for longer periods, sometimes sitting for 8-10 hours a day.
Research. When a book requires research, as State of Wonder did, Patchett does the research after having written at least a chapter and sometimes much of the book. She does this to prevent that awful trap that writers often fall into: researching forever and never getting to the writing. (Patchett said that she loves research but dislikes writing. Though, like Dorothy Parker and the rest of us, she loves having written!) So Patchett writes before researching, figuring that she can fix her mistakes later.
Key advice. Perhaps the best advice I garnered from the event came right at the end: Patchett does not sell a book before writing it. She does not even show it to her editor while writing it. Instead, she writes the book entirely for herself. As Toni Morrison has said, “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
As a writing coach, I have often given the same advice to my clients: write what you want to read. Write what you are passionate about. Write about the ideas and people that pique your curiosity and stir your imagination.
Your turn. If you were at the Patchett event, what did you love about it? If you were not at the event, what are your favorite Patchett books? By the way, my favorite book of hers is the memoir, Truth and Beauty: A Friendship about her friendship with author Lucy Grealy. I read it back to back with Grealy’s book, Autobiography of a Face.