When the Muse Steps Out for a Smoke

Posted on 04 January 2013

Consider yourself warned: I have officially joined the modern world at last. That’s right. I have an e-reader. Here’s a photo of me using my new Nook. This picture also proves that cats don’t care whether you’re reading a regular book or holding a little screen, so long as you make the with body heat and soft blankets.

My exit from the land of “cranky cat lady refuses to adjust to modern times” is thanks to Peter and his excellent choice in Christmas gifts. He also got me Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story as my first official electronic book. (Let it be known that this gift compelled him to disconnect our internet on Christmas Eve so I wouldn’t get the email notification about the book and thus ruin the Nook surprise. Let it also be known that I didn’t even notice the wifi was off for the full 10-12 hours that it was disconnected. That’s impressive and you know it.)

I still love and will continue to love paper books, but I have to admit this e-reader business isn’t too shabby. Yes, the part where I can charge my credit card on the spot to order a book at any time makes me fear for my financial future, but beyond that, it’s all good. Plus, I could finally read Ann Patchett’s The Getaway Car, her short memoir about writing, which is only available electronically.

I love Ann Patchett. When she was in town a few years ago, I went to her event at the Cleveland Public Library and listened to her describe the mangled butterflies that are her writing attempts. The Getaway Car discusses these butterflies and more. Here are a few passages from The Getaway Car:

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. That is why we type a line or two and then hit the delete button or crumple up the page. Certainly that was not what I meant to say! That does not represent what I see. Maybe I should try another time. Maybe the muse has stepped out back for a smoke. Maybe I’m an idiot and was never meant to write at all.


I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing. Again and again throughout the course of my life I will forgive myself.


I could see the genius in not having given 100 percent of myself over to writing before. It had kept me from ever having to come to terms with how good I was — or wasn’t. As long as something got in the way of writing, I could always look at a finished story and think it could have been a little better if only I hadn’t spent so much time on XYZ. How much better I never knew, because I never knew how much of myself I was holding back.


Even if I don’t believe in writer’s block, I certainly believe in procrastination. Writing can be frustrating and demoralizing, and so it’s only natural that we try to put it off. But don’t give “putting it off” a magic label.


I tell them to give this great dream that is burning them down like a house on fire one lousy hour a day for one measly month, and when they’ve done that — one month, every single day — to call me back and we’ll talk. They almost never call back. Do you want to do this thing? Sit down and do it.

Have a great weekend — and if you can, sit down to do some work.

14 responses to When the Muse Steps Out for a Smoke

  • Sarah W says:

    I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing. Again and again throughout the course of my life I will forgive myself.

    Wow. Just wow.

    This and the part about giving 100%. And the procrastination. All of it. Wow.

  • Paul Lamb says:

    My kids got me an Kindle a few years back, and I use it occasionally, but I think I’m of the generation that won’t easily make the transition. Curiously, they’ve confessed that they’ve stopped using their e-readers as well, going back to paper books.

    I read the Getaway Car recently based on several recommendations, but I found it slight and obvious, and she seemed to do too much name dropping throughout. Still, it’s always interesting to see inside the mind of a writer.

    • The Byliner books are meant to be read in one sitting, which would account for how short this memoir is. I did wish she had gone into more detail in some places, and I imagine she has much more to say on the topic, but those were my only faults with what I considered an enjoyable read.

  • Downith says:

    Thanks for all of this Laura, some really great inspiration.

    I finished Run just before Christmas and thought it was excellent. It’s the first Ann Patchett I’ve read. I’m going to buy Getaway Car for my Kindle if it’s available over here, but as a Kindle owner of two years, I still much prefer physical books. Howevever the e-readers really come into their own on holidays and in handbags!

    • Downith says:

      Done. And you are the second person to mention the Paris Review book, might have to get that one too. (Yes, the ease with which we can buy e-books is truly scary.)

    • Of Patchett’s books, BEL CANTO is my favorite, followed by TRUTH & BEAUTY, RUN, STATE OF WONDER, and THE PATRON SAINT OF LIARS, in that order (but with Run and State of Wonder either tied or reversed, it’s hard to say). I have to admit I didn’t care for TAFT much, but I’ll still take her writing any day.

  • Teri says:

    What a great photo Laura!

    I love The Getaway Car. Josey sent it to me back when Byliner was new and I bet I’ve read it 4 times. And will read it again.

  • Josey says:

    I forgot about the getaway car…i need to re-read it. ann patchet is one of those writers that induce feelings of jealousy in me.

    i am impressed with the 10-hour internet lull that wasn’t even noticed. what a great christmas!

    (you look good with that ereader)

  • Catherine says:

    What great words! I’ve yet to red Anne Patchett but this sounds like manna from somewhere wise. I love the Paris Review interviews and it sounds as though Peter made a good choice. I’m still old-school so far. I love my bookshelves, I love packages in the post. I think I would also be even more financially precarious if I invested in an ereader. I guess it will happen one day. Happy New Year from Italia!

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