Letting Go of the Story I Can't Write (To Make Room For the One I Can)

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten came in the form of a quote from Ann Patchett, in her essay, The Getaway Car, where she says: 

"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, or hopelessly long essay) that exists in such brilliant detail on the big screen of my limbic system onto a piece of paper (which, let’s face it, was once a towering tree crowned with leaves and a home to birds), I grieve for my own lack of talent and intelligence. Every. Single. Time. 

“Were I smarter, more gifted, I could pin down a closer facsimile of the wonders I see. 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. 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 like the combination of reality check and inspiration paired into this bit of wisdom. And I love the way it tackles something that I’m not sure we (writers, but also creative people in general) don’t talk about enough, which is the inevitable gap between our aspirations and our achievements. 

It’s easy to be frustrated by that difference. Over time, though, I’ve come to see it as not just inevitable, but also inherent to the creative process. Recognizing it as such helps free me up to do better work than I might otherwise do, by allowing me to let go of the mythical "perfect" stories I'll never write.

For me, the process of writing is, in one way of looking at it, the process of surrendering to the unachievable, without surrendering the ideal of it, all in service of the achievable.  Which is also to say, I can never fully succeed, and, I can never use that as an excuse for not trying.  

I love the way Patchett captures this idea; the way she takes something that might be seen as a creative liability and turns it around as an opportunity to fully discover our best actual work.


  1. Surrendering to the unachievable. That's brilliant.

  2. Excellent post. Have you another post or blog, share with us. Also do you know about best content writer like http://www.maestrofredy.it/UserProfile/tabid/42/userId/358356/language/en-US/Default.aspx ? I want to take essay from him.

    1. Hi Johon - glad you enjoyed it! I post on this site on the 13th of every month, if you want to search the archive here, and or check back next month. I don't have my own separate blog, but here is one other article I've posted, on visual outlining, if you're interested. https://www.highlightsfoundation.org/8851/guest-post-chris-tebbetts-visual-outlining/


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