Last night, best-selling author Ann Patchett spoke at the Mercantile Library in downtown Cincinnati, in front of a packed house of book nerds. She was engaging, charming, downright funny at times, and her talk was a great peek behind the curtain at a word wizard.

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A couple of things stood out to me:

  1. She referenced several other authors and novels, often showing a slide of a book cover on a screen near her, and every time she did, there was an audible gasp of appreciation from those in the audience who had read the book. “Yes!”… “so good!” It’s great to know that there are folks who still savor the written word in the Instagram/TikTok era.
  2. Through her novels, and her independent bookstore in Nashville, and her interviews with other authors, she’s done more to promote reading than anyone else I know. She’s like a Levar Burton for grown-ups.

BTW, Ann’s list of favorite books is here.

During the Q&A, a young woman in attendance asked “What’s your advice for young writers?” Ann’s reply was that any and all advice she had to offer on that topic was contained in her essay “The Getaway Car” from her book This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. (She wrote the essay because she gets that “what’s your advice for aspiring writers” question a lot… one time a woman even followed her into a public restroom and asked Ann that question while she was in a stall!)

But Ann did offer a few words of advice, and there’s no secret code to be cracked. The formula she mentioned is simple, really:

If you want to be a writer, read a lot, write a lot, don’t spend too much time trying to perfect a particular project, and don’t go into the process thinking about how to sell your work.

Read a lot, and write a lot, for the pure joy of it. Sounds like a winning plan to me!

Ann Patchett’s latest novel, The Dutch House, has spent 20 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List.