Writing Routines

Ann Patchett’s Writing Routine: “Starting a novel isn’t so different from starting a marriage.”

Ann Patchett is the author of seven novels, The Patron Saint of Liars, Taft, The Magician’s Assistant, Bel Canto, Run, State of Wonder, and Commonwealth.

People also still talk about the muse and the lightning bolt of inspiration. Maybe it works that way for some people, but for me it’s much more a matter of sitting down and focusing.

‘Ann Patchett’ interviewed by Candace Moonshower | Pif Magazine

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People like to think of writers as living glamorous lifestyles. When they think of authors (especially ones who have published successful books), they picture cozy Parisian lofts or rustic Brooklyn cafes, with both settings featuring ample amounts of fresh coffee. Author Ann Patchett wants to dispel that myth.

“I’m home most of the day, alone, wearing a sweatshirt, drinking lukewarm tea, scratching the dog. It’s not so dazzling,” she admitted in an interview with Candace Moonshower. “I know there is a certain imagined glamour that is left over from Hemingway and Fitzgerald, but most of the writers I know aren’t leading that life.”

Born in Los Angeles, California in 1963, Patchett’s parents divorced at an early age and her mother remarried, uprooting the family to Nashville, Tennessee when she was just six years old. But by that age, Ann Patchett had already known that she wanted to be a writer.

“I always wanted to do it for a living,” she said. “I never seriously considered doing anything else. I sold stories, I taught creative writing and literature, I did freelance work for magazines. All of those things felt like I was making a living off of writing.”

After years of writing for publications like The Paris Review, The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, amongst many others, Patchett published her first novel, The Patron Saint of Liars, in 1992. This was followed by a series of novels published regularly once every few years: Taft (1994), The Magician’s Assistant (1997), Bel Canto (2001). Ironically, the most successful she became as a writer, the less time she had to dedicate to her craft.

“When I wrote my first two books, I was very isolated and so wrote them pretty quickly,” she revealed. “The last two books I wrote in Nashville, where I have a great deal of family obligations. I also have this career now, and people are always asking me to do things (like this) and that takes a huge bite out of my time – speaking, reading galleys, going to book clubs, whatever.”

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Ann Patchett’s daily writing routine

When it comes to her daily writing routine, Patchett spoke to fellow author Noah Charney in 2013 for his “How I Write” column and described an example day.

My husband goes off to work and then I go through emails and mail, clean things up. Usually 8:30 or 9 I’m sitting down to work. It just depends on the day, where I’m at in the work and what I’m working on. If I’m working on non-fiction, I can sit down and get right to it. If I’m working on a novel, sometimes I stare out the window and rearrange my pencil drawer for an hour, before I write a sentence. Fiction is a whole lot harder for me than non-fiction. Writing is a whole lot harder than editing. It really varies, depending on what I’m working on. With fiction I feel like Diana Nyad, swimming from Cuba to Florida. It’s all jellyfish and blisters, but you’ve gotta keep going, right? There’s nothing to do but keep going, but it’s a slog. And like Diana Nyad, when you get out of the water you feel unbelievably proud of yourself. That makes it all worthwhile.

Ann Patchett: How I Write | Daily Beast

In past interviews, Patchett has revealed that she prefers using the computer as opposed to handwriting. Although her love for using computers has resulted in some wasted productivity – namely a solitare addiction that she had to address years ago. “I’d gotten to the point where I had to win a game before I could write, and each time I got up to get a cup of water I had to win a game,” she said. “It was a nightmare.”

For her process, Patchett’s writing is less an act of discovery and more a process of committing whatever’s in her head onto paper. Before she even starts working on a new novel, she has most everything planned out in her head – characters, narrative structure, major plot points – otherwise she’ll tend to “just drive around in circles.”

Starting a novel isn’t so different from starting a marriage. The dreams you pin on these people are enormous. You are diving into the lives of your characters, knowing that you will fall in love with all of them, knowing (as surely Elizabeth Taylor knew) that in the end the love will finish and turn you out on the street alone.

WRITERS ON WRITING; Why Not Put Off Till Tomorrow the Novel You Could Begin Today? | The New York Times

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