The novelist Ann Patchett once said that writing a novel (or anything really) is like killing a butterfly. The novel in our heads (the butterfly) is perfect because our imagination isn’t subject to the limits of reality, but eventually we have to pluck that butterfly out of the air and pin it down on the page with (at first) imperfect words. In my experience, rewriting revives the butterfly. While it may not be the same butterfly of our imagination, it’s real.
. . . I reach into the air and pluck the butterfly up. I take it from the region of my head and I press it down on my desk, and there, with my own hand, I kill it. It’s not that I want to kill it, but it’s the only way I can get something that is so three-dimensional onto the flat page. Just to make sure the job is done, I stick it into place with a pin. Imagine running over a butterfly with an SUV. Everything that was beautiful about this living thing—all the color, the light and movement—is gone. What I’m left with is the dry husk of my friend, the broken body chipped, dismantled, and poorly reassembled. Dead. That’s the book.Ann Patchett
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