These passages are from a Byliner mini ebook called The Getaway Car, which can be found here for $2.99. The Getaway Car is also a chapter in Ann Patchett's brand new book, This Is The Story of a Happy Marriage, which is a collection of nonfiction essays (only some about writing) recently out in hardcover. While the larger book is interesting, The Getaway Car blew my socks off so hard that no other essay in the book can even hold a candle to it. Get it. Now.
Patchett is writing about fiction in The Getaway Car, though Happy Marriage is a book of nonfiction essays. However, what she says about writing fiction here is EXACTLY the same with especially memoir. When she speaks of that butterfly below, imagine she means, instead of the idea of a story, YOUR LIFE. How hard it is to go from YOUR LIFE to WORDS ON PAPER/MEMOIR. Absolutely killer accurate description:
The book makes a breeze around my head like an oversize butterfly whose wings were cut from the rose window in Notre Dame. The book, of which I have not yet written one word, is a thing of indescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its color, so wild and loyal in its nature that my love for this book and my faith in it as I track its lazy flight is the single perfect joy in my life…When I can’t think of another stall, when putting it off has actually become more painful than doing it, I reach into the air and pluck the butterfly up. I take it from the region of my head and I press it down against my desk, and there, with my own hand, I kill it. It’s not that I want to kill it, but it’s the only way I can get something that is so three-dimensional onto the flat page…Everything that was beautiful about this living thing – all the color, the light and movement – is gone. What I’m left with is the dry husk of my friend, the broken body chipped, dismantled and poorly reassembled. Dead. That’s the book…The journey from the head to the hand is perilous and lined with bodies…Only a few of us are going to be willing to break our own hearts by trading in the living beauty of imagination for the stark disappointment of words.
It turns out that the distance from head to hand, from wafting butterfly to entomological specimen, is achieved through regular, disciplined practice.
I never learned how to take the beautiful thing in my imagination and put it on paper without feeling I killed it along the way. I did, however, learn how to weather the death, and I learned how to forgive myself for it.
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. Every time I have set out to translate the book (or story..) that exists in such brilliant detail on the big screen of my limbic system onto a piece of paper..I grieve for my own lack of talent and intelligence. Every. Single. Time…I believe that, more than anything else, this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers. Forgiveness, therefore, is key.