Ann Patchett

I am drowning in Ann Patchett. When I read her latest essays now, I catch a fleeting hello, a nodding glimpse to something she has mentioned in her older essays which I am also reading. It’s like I am stitching. She is making me re-arrive at the personal essay as a form of journalism. Many gods of journalism, who cannot stand that other people read and write will die about this. But what else is new? They die about something or the other every day. But read Ann Patchett – she is remaking journalism, both the ‘serious’ one and the chota bheem one.

Whiny muffins like me who cry about too much work should read her essay ‘Nonfiction, an introduction’ where she outlines the beginning of her journey as a freelance writer. She says she learnt how to swallow pride as she watched some of her best sentences get chopped up by editors who worked with knives. She learnt, she says, how to write better by anything and everything that came her way. One day she’d be writing about ballroom dancing, another day about boutique farming, and some other day, about a lip balm. She soaked in everything she wrote and didn’t complain. In the end, it would all come together as she returned home to write what she really wanted to write – fiction.

“Somewhere along the line I learned to experience only the smallest, most private stabbing sensation when I watched my best sentences cut from an article because they did not advance the story. Ultimately, this skill came to benefit my fiction as well. The conversations I had had so often with magazine editors were now internalized. I could read both parts of the script. Did I think that was a beautiful sentence I had written? Yes, I did. Did it further the cause of the novel? No, not really. Could I then delete it? It was already gone”

AM had once said that to be a writer, one has to become small. There was so much to carry in that sentence that it made me afraid to think that I’d never be able to do it. But it’s true. Becoming small is the only mark of a writer thirsty to learn, a journalist hungry to see.

4 Comments

  1. Thank you for this! Knowing that it is possible to hold both things, that a sentence can be both beautiful and unnecessary is a level of wisdom that would make editing so much easier on the self 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Apologies for haunting your comment section but I was reading the essay you’d linked with the post and something about it reminded me of this other essay I’d read and loved…and guess what? That was written by Patchett too(!), called These Precious Days. This is the most exciting thing ever, and now I want to drown in her work too- thank you so much for writing about her!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love your comments! (had to pause my reply to your email in between because I fell ill :/)
      I lovedddd These Precious Days. Took it to class and loved it more after students read it so wholly. I am reading ‘This is the story of a happy marriage’ now and it’s every bit as drowning!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Please take care! Hope you feel better soon 🙂 Incidentally, what reminded me of These Precious Days when I was reading this one was the writer- owning- bookstore persona that is incredibly appealing as a career choice, but also how she speaks about her husband- the everyday intimacies that come with so many years of marriage, maybe? How she’ll be talking about something else, and then fit a conversation with him, or little details that gesture towards sharing your life with another person- and these mentions of him are so natural, and so….unintrusive?

        Liked by 1 person

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