I have a shelf filled with books on the art of writing — it is a great distraction from actually writing. But seriously, if you share my vice, you may want to check out Ann Patchett’s “The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir about Writing and Life.”

Patchett was blessed with accomplished writing mentors at Sarah Lawrence College, including the poet Jane Cooper, novelists Allan Gurganus and Russell Banks, and short story virtuoso Grace Paley. Then, it was off to the famed Iowa Writer’s Workshop. But upon leaving, her budding career took a detour, as she left her husband and her newly minted job as a writer in residence at a small college, and moved back home to live with her mother in Tennessee. At age 25, working as a waitress, “between pilfering croutons off salad plates and microwaving fudge sauce for sundaes,” Patchett decided to write a novel. That novel would be the vehicle to get her out of her waitressing job — it would be her “getaway car.” Patchett truly found her calling as a novelist (see Bel Canto, State of Wonder, and her latest Commonwealth), and this calling has surprising spiritual dimensions. Patchett, by the way, is Catholic, but it’s complicated.

She writes elegantly about the gap between the beatific vision of the book in your head and the inevitable letdown of the actual words on the page. “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.” As a result, Patchett finds forgiveness to be a vital component of the writing process:

ignatiusForgiveness. The ability to forgive oneself. 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.

It sounds frighteningly (or reassuringly) like Romans 7, does it not? The things I wish to write I cannot, but the tripe I never wanted to write, well, that’s what just landed atop my printer. And while we might quibble about whether we forgive ourselves or accept forgiveness from above, her point strikes me as incontrovertible — for writers, preachers, lovers, humans.

A spiritual discipline I practice haphazardly is, with apologies to St. Ignatius, what you might call the reverse-examen. Instead of reviewing the last 24 hours, confessing sin and celebrating moments of grace, I preview the coming 24 hours. Thumbing through my iPhone calendar, I imagine the conversations I might have with coworkers and church members in the day ahead and journal about ways I might bless them. But inevitably, these prayerful intentions fail to live up to the ardor with which they were transcribed in my Moleskine that morning. Unfortunately, there is no other option. Examens, whether backwards or forwards, are powered by forgiveness. And when our writing, and our living, feels absolutely worthless, it turns out that grace is a pretty decent getaway car.