Tuesday, July 07, 2009

On Not Writing a Novel

I just came across a great New York Times article by Ann Patchett about avoiding writing her next novel. The article is from 2002, but brand new to me thanks to a mention by Trish on Twitter. No doubt Patchett has already written the novel of which she speaks in the article, and perhaps a few more besides, but what she says about the writing process continues to resonate. I particularly like this bit:

For a long time before I start to write a novel, anywhere from one year to two, I make it up. This is the happiest time I have with my books. The novel in my imagination travels with me like a small lavender moth making loopy circles around my head. It is a truly gorgeous thing, its unpredictable flight patterns, the amethyst light on its wings. I think of my characters as I wander through the grocery store. I write out their names like a teenage girl dreaming of marriage.

In these early pre-text days my story has more promise, more beauty, than I have ever seen in any novel ever written, because, sadly, this novel is not written. Then the time comes when I have to begin to translate ideas into words, a process akin to reaching into the air, grabbing my little friend (crushing its wings slightly in my thick hand), holding it down on a cork board and running it though with a pin. It is there that the lovely thing in my head dies.

Click here to read the whole of Patchett's article.


Suko said...

This is fascinating. Sometimes a dream realized is not as pleasant as the original dream, as the small lavendar moth.

Kathleen Jones said...

I loved this quote - because this is exactly what writing is like. The book in your head bears only a very pale resemblance to the book that gets written! Kathleen

Al said...

I love the quote too. In some ways it holds absolutely true how can mere words capture the vividness of imagination.
However, I have also experienced the opposite, when nascent ideas take shape as I form them into words on the page. A deeply satisfying experience.

Dorte H said...

A bit sad, really, that the planning is always better than the real book, but I certainly understand what she is talking about.

Lily said...

What interesting about this description is that she seems to think that the act of writing murders something beautiful -- that's never occurred to me. But it's certainly true that the unwritten is lovely. This reminds me of Emily Dickinson's "I dwell in Possibility--/A fairer House than Prose--/More numerous of Windows--/Superior--for Doors--"