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Ann Patchett’s 7 Writing Tips

Ann Patchett

A few years ago, Ann Patchett opened an independent bookstore here in Nashville called Parnassus. And though I’ve never read one of her books, that instantly made me a fan.

After reading her writing tips, I’m even more of fan. So I pulled a few that appeared in her memoir, The Getaway Car.

These are really good.

  1. No one should go into debt to study creative writing. It’s simply not worth it. Do not think of it as an investment in yourself that you’ll be able to recoup later on. This is not medical school.
  2. Ideas are everywhere. Lift up a big rock and look under it, stare into a window of a house you drive past and dream about what’s going on inside. Read the newspaper, ask your father about his sister, think of something that happened to you or someone you know and then think about it turning out an entirely different way.
  3. 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.
  4. If you want to write and can’t figure out how to do it, try this: Pick an amount of time to sit at your desk every day. Start with twenty minutes, say, and work up as quickly as possible to as much time as you can spare. Do you really want to write? Sit for two hours a day.
  5. Many writers feel that plot is passé; they’re so over plot—who needs plot?—to which I say, learn how to construct one first and then feel free to reject it.
  6. Even if you’re writing a book that jumps around in time, has ten points of view, and is chest-deep in flashbacks, do your best to write it in the order in which it will be read, because it will make the writing, and the later editing, incalculably easier.
  7. One method of revision that I find both loathsome and indispensable is reading my work aloud when I’m finished. There are things I can hear—the repetition of words, a particularly flat sentence—that I don’t otherwise catch.

Oh, man, I have so much to say about that first tip that I’m going to write an entire post about it…soon. Why do people go into a crapload of debt for a degree that will never allow them to make the money they’ll need to pay back their loans? More to come on that in relation to creative writing degrees.

In fact, I might write a post about each one of these. They’re that good.

Like #3, it’s so basic but so very true. You can learn to write, but you still need to have something to say. That’s all on you.

Any of these tips stand out to you?

Past writing tips from famous authors.

What Hemingway can teach you about web writing.

5 writing tips from C.S. Lewis

John Steinbeck’s 6 Writing Tips

Margaret Atwood’s 10 Rules of Writing

Jonathan Franzen’s 10 Rules of Writing

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24 Comments Post a comment
  1. God advice here. Thanks for sharing!

    Like

    October 14, 2013
  2. teresa #

    Yes, her advice to sit for two hours. It’s the slow steady work that brings progress. Also, writing the book in the order that it will be written. Even with a professional book (which is what I am finishing up right now), sitting there and slogging it out in the order it will be read is helpful. I see my progress and I get a sense of the logic of my presentation of topics. I HATED re-reading the book – and I didn’t read it out loud, but I did it verbally in my head to get a sense of the rhythm. Even for a professional book this is important – and how much more so for creative writing.

    Like

    October 14, 2013
    • I agree. Writing is just a lot of dead time. Go ahead and embrace it.

      Like

      October 14, 2013
  3. This is great stuff! Tweeting a link to this post. Looking forward to your posts on the tips.

    Like

    October 14, 2013
  4. My, gosh. How great are these. There are people who say they don’t write everyday and say they want to be writers. But they will never be as good as they would if they had written everyday. Yo-yo Ma practices everyday so why shouldn’t we.

    I would add a blog on Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules.

    Like

    October 14, 2013
    • Yep. If you love it, you’ll do it all the time.

      Like

      October 14, 2013
      • Otherwise you can’t call yourself a writer. Thing is that so many people want to be author but they aren’t willing to put in the hard work writing.

        Like

        October 14, 2013
  5. I commute for 4 hours a day, 5 days a week, and have been using that time to write, plan and think over my current novel. It’s hard work early in the morning when many of my fellow commuters are fast asleep.

    I think the advice given here is brilliant, and something I will definitely try to follow from now on to help my writing. Thank you for posting it!

    Like

    October 14, 2013
  6. Yes, ideas are everywhere. You got to look for it. I look for it in the images I took and marry the two. When I take a picture, I look for a story in them. I instinctively know which picture I took has a story I took though I may not know what the story is till I look at it again later. And sometimes the story changes. That is the reason I started a blog – http://a1000reasons.blogspot.com/

    Like

    October 14, 2013
  7. The last one stuck out to me. I just had a beta tear my story apart, (such sweet pains) and suggest this reading out loud to me. Then someone else suggested it. I’m slowly beginning to realize that this might be more worth my time than I thought.

    Sigh. One more thing to do.

    Like

    October 14, 2013
  8. These are awesome tips, especially #3! :)

    Like

    October 14, 2013
  9. Reading out loud is really solid writing advice, though I have to say staying out of debt tops the list for me. Owing Sallie Mae $500/month for the next X years following your MFA will get in the way of writing time. And writing time, according to Ann Patchett, is important for writing.

    Also I highly recommend Bel Canto–it’ll make you even more of a Patchett fan :)

    Like

    October 14, 2013
  10. Me gusta que sigan escribindome.Teresa Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2013 12:29:59 +0000 To: teresac831@hotmail.com

    Like

    October 14, 2013
  11. Very true! Especially, the first part about not wasting money in creative writing classes. I think spending money to improve writing skills (grammar, punctuation, syntax…) is a good thing if one plans on being a writer, but certainly, there is no class that will ever teach you what to write.

    Like

    October 14, 2013
  12. I got into the UCLA master’s program for writing – but ended up not doing it because of the huge price tag of $3600. I go to CirtiqueCircle.com and have other writers look at my work. My writing has improved by leaps and bounds.

    Like

    October 14, 2013
  13. I love all of these tips, but if I had to choose a favorite, it would probably be the second one. Yes, yes, stories are everywhere!

    Like

    October 14, 2013
  14. I love Ann Patchett and her writing advice is spot on! Stories ARE everywhere. I am never at a loss for material just need to continue working at the craft. BTW, Bel Canto is one of my favorite reads from the last decade.

    Like

    October 14, 2013
  15. #2 and #3 stand out for me. For better or worse I’ve always been someone who thinks too much. It makes life hell sometimes but it does help me to write. I have a school aged boy now and I’m trying to find ways to get him to say more than “I dunno” when I probe him about things. I work with international students on their writing and some come from a culture in which they were never encouraged to think about themselves or anything at all, really. I think we can help when they’re young, to gently “train” them to go deeper and to really think.

    Like

    October 14, 2013
  16. I recently met Paul Auster and he said some really similar things. Especially in reference to number 1. When I told him I hadn’t taken any writing classes, he said he’d never taken any either, that he didn’t necessarily recommend it, and that if I really wanted to write, I should just force myself to sit down and write every day.

    Great post! Thanks!

    Like

    October 14, 2013
  17. I’ve been to Parnassus, but I was unimpressed: it’s just drawing out the death cry of the independent bookstore. Such a large percentage of their selection consists of young adult novels/best sellers, and it’s too small of a space to sit down and read in.

    Like

    October 17, 2013
  18. Reblogged this on #StoryCraft Chat and commented:
    Great tips – every one!

    Like

    October 22, 2013
  19. The tips were great, but I’m stuck on the fact that you haven’t read any of her books! She is one of my favorite authors. You should read Bel Canto – it is one of my favorite books of all time!

    Like

    October 31, 2013
  20. Reblogged this on Something Very Sensible and commented:
    This is my very favorite list of writing advice from a famous writer.
    What do you think? What is your favorite writing advice? Do you follow or want to follow Ms. Patchett’s advice on this list?

    Like

    November 15, 2013

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