This is the Story of a Happy Marriage

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage

I have enjoyed reading Ann Patchett’s fiction (see my blogs on The Dutch House and Ann Patchett), so when I heard about her essay on writing, ‘The Getaway Car’, I bought the collection it is in - This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, and enjoyed reading it on the November commute.

This non-fiction collection charts the author’s life and career – her love of her grandmother, a nun, her dog and her husband, and, of course, her love of writing. It’s a fascinating take on autobiography and follows her development as a writer – from magazine non-fiction, to short stories and the novel. The personal and professional are seamlessly brought together, as they are in a writing life.

The Getaway Car examines many aspects of writing. It touches on why people always ask writers where they get their ideas, or suggest ideas to them, as if having the idea was the problem, rather than having to turn the idea into 90,000 great words. It talks about the process of forcing yourself to write until finally not writing becomes more painful than writing, and how the act of writing kills the dream of what the work could have been, what you wanted it to be, and leaves you with a dead husk in its wake.

Patchett talks about writing courses and what they will and won’t give you and the sheer hard work of learning to write well and how long it takes, and how she finally put writing first above all else. She describes how she forces herself to keep going at the moment when all she wants to do is abandon the book and start something else, and the importance of writing linearly. She examines putting writing off and then the joy of printing out your first novel and looking at the stack of pages. She goes on to getting an agent and doing the research. finishing by summarising the ‘miserable, awful business of writing, that is better than anything in the world’.

This is certainly some of the best advice I have read for aspirational novelists.