The answer to the question What now is never what you think it's going to be, and that is the thing that every writer has to learn. I came to understand that fiction writing was like duck hunting. You go to the right place at the right time with the right dog. You get into the water before dark, wearing a little protective gear, stand behind some reeds and wait for the story to present itself. This is not to say you are passive. You choose the place and the day. You pick the gun and the dog. You have the desire to blow the duck apart for reasons that are entirely your own. But you have to be willing to accept not what you wanted to happen, but what happens. You have to write the story you find in the circumstances you've created, because more often than not the ducks don't show up. The hunters in the next blind begin to argue and you realize they're in love. You see a snake swimming in your direction. Your dog begins to shiver and whine and you start to think about this gun that belonged to your father. By the time you get out of the marsh you will have written a novel that is so devoid of ducks it will shock you. It took me a long time of standing still and being quiet to figure out what in retrospect appears to be a pretty simple lesson: writing a novel and living a life are very much the same thing. The secret is finding the balance between going out to get what you want and being open to the thing that actually comes your way."
Listen here: Ann Patchett Sarah Lawrence Commencement Speech 2008