Click to search the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library Skip Navigation

The NYPL Podcast

Podcast #51: Ann Patchett and Elizabeth Gilbert on Writing


Subscribe on iTunes.

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

You can subscribe to the New York Public Library Podcast to hear more conversations with wonderful artists, writers, and intellectuals. Join the conversation today!


Patron-generated content represents the views and interpretations of the patron, not necessarily those of The New York Public Library. For more information see NYPL's Website Terms and Conditions.

This is the first time i

This is the first time i listened to NYPL podcast. Ann and Elizabeth are both engaging communicators with this positive energy and good sense of humor. I enjoy listening to their conversations and insights. I also resonate strongly with the notion that writing is a great way of talking out the problems and starting out new. Will read the books of these authors sometime:)

Great experience to listen to

Great experience to listen to their conversation, full of humor and wisdom. I am deeply impressed by the peacefulness in these two writers about the past, the pain and the joy in life. A good writer is for sure a good story-teller, in words written and spoken.

Post new comment