Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Squashing butterflies

Ann Patchett compares writing novels to squashing butterflies. That surprising yet, when she explained it. apt analogy came last Saturday night in her lecture at Kenyon College as part of the Kenyon Review Literary Festival, where the author of State of Wonder was the star attraction.

While working on a book, she said, the ideas, characters and plotlines float around in her head like butterflies floating around in a garden. They seem beautiful and perfect. Yet if you capture a butterfly, kill it and tack it to a board for display, much of the beauty it showed in life is gone. So it is, she said, when ideas are transferred to paper. They never seem as beautiful as they seemed in her head.

"I am able to forgive myself for not being as much as I want to be," Patchett said. She simply moves on to the next book, rarely looking back at a book once it is published. Squashed butterflies don't interest her.

The gist of her lecture, which was open to the public but which was aimed primarily at students in Kenyon College's writing program, was that writing has more to do with hard work than either talent or inspiration. Real writers, she suggested, don't wait for the muse to strike before beginning to write. They just write. Real writers don't sit around complaining about not being as gifted as others. They write.

If you want to succeed, work, she said. "We control the outcome of our own life."

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