Not as well as Yo-Yo Ma, but still, to touch the hem of the gown that is art itself


Why is it that we understand playing the cello will require work, but we attribute writing to the magic of inspiration? Chances are, any child who stays with an instrument for more than two weeks has some adult making her practice, and any child who sticks with it longer than that does so because she understands that practice makes her play better and that there is a deep, soul-satisfying pleasure in improvement. If a person of any age picked up the cello for the first time and said, “I’ll be playing in Carnegie Hall next month!” you would pity their delusion, yet beginning fiction writers all across the country polish up their best efforts and send them off to The New Yorker. Perhaps you’re thinking here that playing an instrument is not an art itself but an interpretation of the composer’s art, but I stand by my metaphor. The art of writing comes way down the line, as does the art of interpreting Bach. Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means that to get to the art you must master the craft. If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say. Write the story, learn from it, put it away, write another story. Think of a sink pipe filled with sticky sediment. The only way to get clean water is to force a small ocean through the tap. Most of us are full up with bad stories, boring stories, self-indulgent stories, searing works of unendurable melodrama. We must get all of them out of our system in order to find the good stories that may or may not exist in the freshwater underneath. […]

Does this sound like a lot of work without any guarantee of success? Well, yes, but it also calls into question our definition of success. Playing the cello, we’re more likely to realize that the pleasure is the practice, the ability to create this beautiful sound; not to do it as well as Yo-Yo Ma, but still, to touch the hem of the gown that is art itself… I got better at closing the gap between my hand and my head by clocking in the hours, stacking up the pages. Somewhere in all my years of practice, I don’t know where exactly, I arrived at the art. […]

Forgiveness. The ability to forgive oneself. Stop here for a few breaths and think about this because it is the key to making art, and very possibly the key to finding any semblance of happiness in life. […]

I believe, more than anything, that this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers. Forgiveness, therefore, is key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing. Again and again throughout the course of my life I will forgive myself.

~ Ann Patchett. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, Harper Perennial, 2014)

Source: Brain Pickings – The Workhorse and the Butterfly: Ann Patchett on Writing and Why Self-Forgiveness Is the Most Important Ingredient of Great Art


  1. Bam.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. she is one of my favorite writers. maybe for this reason.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Barneysday says:

    To be a successful writer, or most anything for that matter, one must put in the hours. There are no shortcuts. Write every day. No excuses. Free-form writing can be as productive as working on that great novel we believe we have in us.

    All wonderful advise, and thanks for sharing Ann’s story with us.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. why is all of this wonderful advice about writing coming at exactly the time that i had designated to “officially” start writing and just started thinking i’m a failure because i’m not going to be able to pound out a book in 2 months? oh man, i am so thankful to be exposed to all of this advice. thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. In Julia Cameron’s “The Artist Way,” she advises three hand-written pages a day, written quickly with no thought for form or style. I’ve done this for years, and it helped me start the practice of writing. Skimming the algae off the top of the pond (my metaphor) or forcing an ocean through the tap (Patchett’s) every shitty draft gets us closer.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Forgiveness and moving forward no matter how we feel is what makes the difference. Her words ring true for all of us who write. Having the first draft of my book back from the Editor, I know the many doubts she speaks of but we all have something unique to share with each other and that is a gift. 🙂 And you are a great writer Dave.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Back to the drawing board.
    With pleasure.
    Thank you very much.
    You can “You are welcome” me later……

    Liked by 1 person

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