Podcast #51: Ann Patchett and Elizabeth Gilbert on Writing

By Tracy O'Neill, Social Media Curator
March 5, 2015

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Ann Patchett and Elizabeth Gilbert are not merely both writers; they're friends and longtime pen pals. Patchett, winner of the Orange Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award for her novel Bel Canto, has  written ten books. Gilbert has published six. And between the two of them, the insights into the work of a writer are nearly endless. The New York Public Library podcast is fortunate to present Ann Patchett and Elizabeth Gilbert on Writing.

Ann Patchett and Elizabeth Gilbert LIVE at the NYPL

While it might seem to some that a select few are born with the gift of work ethic so necessary to artistic success, Gilbert spoke of how her mother taught her how to work hard:

"What I remember is the egg timer and tears. That was sort of how I was taught discipline was my mom would sit me down with homework and the egg timer and thirty minutes, and I would weep, because I didn't want to do it and I didn't know how to do it, and I wanted someone else to do it. And that was like every night. And she just made me do it, and now I do my own egg timer, right? Like, I know how to do it because I was taught."

Many readers best know Gilbert from her bestselling memoir, Eat, Pray, Love. Gilbert described grappling with her writing career like a puzzle following the enormous popularity of the book:

"I am very stubborn about refusing to allow the tremendous, blessed success of Eat, Pray, Love to turn into a curse upon my life because I think that would be very rude to my great good fortune. When people sort of imply that that's a tragic thing for my writing career, that that happened, that I'm defined by that, I always try to remind them of what a tragedy is in a human's life and that is not one of them... The world is a terrible place full of horrible things and having a giant bestseller's not one of those things. So we can establish that right away. But it is a puzzle, right? What do you do? And I felt like what I really needed to do was break the spell as quickly as possible for my own purposes to get something out there so fast, to disappoint everyone as quickly as I could in order to get it over with so that I could then be free."

While Gilbert felt she needed somehow to manage expectations of her writing after Eat, Pray, Love, Patchett spoke about writing purely for herself, not with an audience or critical reception in mind:

"I only write for myself. I don't sell my books. Nobody sees them. I write the book I want to read, the book that I miss. And if when I finish someone wants to buy it and they like it, I'm very grateful. But it's mine. It's totally, totally mine."

Ann Patchett and Elizabeth Gilbert LIVE at the NYPL

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