Writing as Adria Townsend and J. S. Laurenz

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Thoughts on Ann Patchett, on writing, and the Getaway Car

Ann Patchett compares writing to trapping and dissecting a butterfly—it’s a killing act, but the only way to come close to getting down on paper what’s in the mind.  I think the whole act of writing is getting something to live, no matter how imperfect, an act of creation, not deconstruction.  In keeping with the butterfly metaphor, I think a writer’s job is to distract with action and unique pattern so that no one notices the seams caused by revision and hard work.  Just like the flutter and design of the butterfly wings distract us from the insect things in the middle.  Norman Mailer called writing the spooky art, and I agree it’s a mysterious act of creation.  I see writers as trained midwives in the process of creation.  That’s not to say perfection.  A story can never truly be life, it can only imitate it.  It can be a Frankenstein, sewn together out of myriad parts, ultimately uncontrollable, or a Pinocchio, so close but not quite human, or a zombie out of Pet Cemetery.  But it is creation. 

There has to be hard work in writing, but I think MFA programs can train writers to sharpen a story like a pencil until all that’s left is the point.  Polish is important, but not if it strips away what’s underneath. Writing comes out of necessity and the instrument doesn’t matter as much as the story, like a murder victim scrawling a final message in blood.  Use what you’ve got to get your message across.  I think it’s possible to kill a story with craft.  I’d rather let it live through a difficult birth and a disappointing childhood. 

I don’t want to think of writers as scientists in lab coats, removed from the real world studying carefully dissected entrails.  I think of writers as paramedics performing CPR in the midst of an accident scene, trying to resuscitate.  It’s hard work,  physically and mentally draining, not always successful, but not killing work. 

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