Writing the Ann Patchett Way

To write like Ann Patchett, that’s the Holy Grail.  She has attained the glory of writing successfully in both fiction and nonfiction and has the awards to prove it.  Though I don’t write for awards, (and I’m sure she doesn’t either,) I do write with the idea that I’ve stumbled upon and tripped over some kernel of truth and there is nothing I’d be happier doing than sharing that little gem with someone else.

Yes, I’m a huge fan of Ann Patchett–Bel Canto and Truth and Beauty will always be among my favorites–but what really motivates me as a writer is the impressive gift she has for writing as if she is your best friend, talking from the heart and giving you her hard-earned truths and observed wisdom about the human spirit.  And she wraps it all up in this pretty, but not ostentatious package that you can’t wait to unwrap and unwrap and unwrap.  Patchett is a master of colloquial writing that sounds like normal conversation until you read the one line or phrase that makes your heart stop.  Oh my!  She’s nailed it!  The truth that begs to be revealed, but so few people have the ability and language to express it, much less pass it on.  What more could a writer aspire to do?

Happy MarriageI’ve written a memoir about my marriage and the transformation I resisted and then embraced through the ups and downs of that experience, but I was having trouble with one aspect of the memoir that seemed small, yet was really the crux of the entire manuscript.  Then I read Patchett’s This is the Story of a Happy Marriage and there it was.  The one sentence I’d been trying to write, yet couldn’t seem to convey as accurately and truthfully as I wanted.  Oh my!  She nailed it. Thank you, Ms. Patchett, for writing with such truth and beauty and for inspiring writers like me to keep hammering away at our own truths until we nail it.

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4 thoughts on “Writing the Ann Patchett Way

  1. I only discovered Ann Patchett last year, and I can’t believe it took me so long! I absolutely adore her nonfiction. Memoir doesn’t get any better than Truth and Beauty. And This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage has some really excellent pieces. The only fiction of hers I’ve tried is State of Wonder, and while I admire the writing itself, something about the story has failed to hold my interest–the last third of the book has been waiting on my shelf, unread, for about six months now. Since you say you liked Bel Canto so much, I’m thinking of trying that one instead.

    If you have a moment to think about it, I’d love to hear what other favorite memoirists you have!

    • Have you had a chance to read Bel Canto, Sharon? Some of my other favorite memoir writers are Anne Lamott (all of her books are fabulously funny and brutally honest,) Isabel Allende (I love her fiction because of her imaginative storytelling ability and her memoir, called Paula, about her daughter, is beautiful.) Loved Amy Tan’s The Opposite of Fate and I’ve read all of Madeleine L’Engle’s memoirs because I’m an admirer of her intellect; even though I didn’t connect completely to her life, I love her as a writer. Who are your favorites?

      • No, I haven’t managed to get to Bel Canto yet. Too many things to read! But thank you so much for your excellent memoir suggestions. I didn’t realize Amy Tan had a memoir. I’ve heard her speak and thoroughly enjoyed that; I imagine much of the same humor comes through in her memoir. I read one of Madeleine L’Engle’s memoirs as a teenager and remember being fascinated. I’m going to have to go back and try them as an adult. All of these are definitely going on my list.

        My favorites include Dani Shapiro, whose first memoir, Slow Motion, was about how her parents’ car accident slowly pulled her out of the death spiral she was in–alcoholic and mistress to the stepfather of one of her former college friends. I can’t say I identify with the particulars of her life, but there is something universally relatable about the way she tells her story. Her second memoir, Devotion, is equally good.

        I also thoroughly enjoyed Laura Munson’s This is Not the Story You Think It Is, about the summer her husband went through a rather desperate midlife crisis and she chose to stick it out and hold their family together.

        Also, H. G. Beverly’s The Other Side of Charm is a riveting but disturbing masterpiece about marriage to a sociopath. Kate Hopper’s Ready for Air about her daughter’s premature birth is excellent, too.

        And if all these seem a bit heavy, I’d also recommend Natalie Burg’s Swedish Lessons. Especially if you’ve ever lived abroad, I don’t think you’ll be able to keep from laughing out loud.

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