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?
I’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.
Fine, I admit it. I’m a crazed bookaholic. I suppose I could call myself a bibliophile which sounds so much more intelligent and respectable and while I’m technically a bibliophile, I’m really, deep down, a bookaholic. And yes, like all “aholics,” I do have an uncontrollable dependency—on books.
I rely on books to introduce to me to someone, whether real or imagined, who experiences life as I do so that I can sing out, “Hey, soul sister!” and mean it. I read books to get to know someone who has experienced life as I can’t or never will so that my small, narrow world stretches and softens for having known them. And what about the characters who inspire me or enrage me? Whoever says passion can’t be ignited by words alone hasn’t read Chocolat or The Color Purple or anything by Isabel Allende.
Well-told stories and memorable characters reach out from the pages and pluck my heart right out. I like to think I’ve got my act together, that I can keep my emotions under lock and key, and then some randomly chosen story knocks me to my knees. And I’m forced to admit that my life is a constant work-in-progress and my emotions, instead of fragile irritants to be controlled, are the beautiful wonders that keep me feeling alive. This same experience, this unfolding of the tucked-in life, happens with nonfiction too, especially memoirs. As it turns out, I’m not the first person to feel confused, challenged, restricted or grieved. What I might not be able to talk about in public, someone has written about in private, and yet with a certain fearlessness, chose to share. And I am forever grateful.
As Pete Hamill admits in talking about his vast library of books, “If I had not picked up this habit in the library long ago, I would have more money in the bank today; I would not be richer.”
As I loom over my laptop and brew my latest writing project, I’m always hoping that the muse will fly in, land on my shoulder, and whisper into my ear, “Write it like this…..” and then genius will spill out like a magical spice, the spice that transforms the ordinary or above average into stellar. Yes, I’m always hoping. And then I plead. I demand. And I sometimes resort to that jaw-clenching, mother-to-disobedient-child, “Get over here NOW!” The muse, as it turns out, is very temperamental and doesn’t respond well to commands.
My book club is currently reading Jodi Picoult’s The Storyteller and I think I’ve figured out why the muse is so frequently deaf to my demands. She’s too busy hanging out with Jodi. Apparently, Jodi lives in New Hampshire and that is a heck of a long way from Texas. Maybe there’s more than one muse, you say? Well, fine then. I want Jodi’s.
She writes with a brilliance that, on good days, incites me to work harder to fashion a sentence that rivals hers. On bad days, her writing makes me question my own. I wonder if I should be spooling yarn or counting matchsticks instead.
From The Storyteller: “Later, as I got to know her, I’d realize that when she gardens, she never sees the seed. She is already picturing the plant it will become. I imagine she thought the same, meeting me.”
Yes, it’s time. I don’t know why I’ve taken this long to reach the only conclusion possible. I have to steal Jodi’s muse. She’s very prolific, so she probably has more than one anyway. I’ll be the Writers’ Robin Hood—stealing from the rich to give to the poor. My muse may be deaf, but I’ll bet her muse is one of those airline passengers that sits next to you and chatters all the way from New Hampshire back to Texas. For the first time ever, I’ll leave my headphones in their case and listen with rapt attention, taking notes.