Anne Patchett on Being Open 2 comments


male Mandarin duck

“The answer to the question What now is never what you think it’s going to be, and that is the thing that every writer has to learn. I came to understand that fiction writing was like duck hunting. You go to the right place at the right time with the right dog. You get into the water before dark, wearing a little protective gear, stand behind some reeds and wait for the story to present itself. This is not to say you are passive. You choose the place and the day. You pick the gun and the dog. You have the desire to blow the duck apart for reasons that are entirely your own. But you have to be willing to accept not what you wanted to happen, but what happens. You have to write the story you find in the circumstances you’ve created, because more often than not the ducks don’t show up. The hunters in the next blind begin to argue and you realize they’re in love. You see a snake swimming in your direction. Your dog begins to shiver and whine and you start to think about this gun that belonged to your father. By the time you get out of the marsh you will have written a novel that is so devoid of ducks it will shock you. It took me a long time of standing still and being quiet to figure out what in retrospect appears to be a pretty simple lesson: writing a novel and living a life are very much the same thing. The secret is finding the balance between going out to get what you want and being open to the thing that actually comes your way.

Ann Patchett’s Sarah Lawrence College Commencement Address, May 19, 2006 [bolding added]

I love this quote from Ann Patchett because of her honesty and insight about the creative process. Patchett doesn’t say you shouldn’t be disciplined–on the contrary–or that you shouldn’t or can’t write every day. She does say, very explicitly, that even while we set out to write with certain expectations, as we do the deliberate work of writing there is room to be open to surprise and discovery.

Are you open to what actually comes your way in your writing? What writing discoveries have you made lately?

Many thanks to Katherine Grosjean who originally shared this with me many years ago.


2 thoughts on “Anne Patchett on Being Open

  • Debbie Moon

    I never end up with the ducks I went looking for!
    This is a great metaphor, though, because creativity is a lot like living off the land. You set off in a certain direction, and you use what you find along the way. Sometimes you take a deliberate detour, sometimes you get lost, and sometimes the way is blocked. But as they say in parkour “there’s always a path”…

    • Shaula Evans Post author

      > You set off in a certain direction, and you use what you find along the way.

      Yes! It’s the discoveries along the way that make the magic happen for me. I always find things deep in the writing process that I literally could never have imagined at the outset.

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