It was my good fortune this morning to catch sight of a timely tweet by Alexandra Witze that led me to not one, but two great interviews of John McPhee. The one Alexandra’s tweet pointed to was certainly interesting, but the longer interview, by McPhee’s former student Peter Hessler in the Paris Review, was an even deeper and more wonderful glimpse into McPhee’s writing method. As such, it is a most timely and insightful source of inspiration for those of us partaking in Anne Jefferson’s #sciwrite challenge. Even though I ended up spending the better part of the afternoon soaking in the interviews rather than #sciwriting, like had intended to do, I feel that I wasted not a moment of that time. If that is not recommendation enough, allow me to quote a choice section wherein McPhee describes his own process of writing:
It may sound like I’ve got some sort of formula by which I write. Hell, no! You’re out there completely on your own—all you’ve got to do is write. OK, it’s nine in the morning. All I’ve got to do is write. But I go hours before I’m able to write a word. I make tea. I mean, I used to make tea all day long. And exercise, I do that every other day. I sharpened pencils in the old days when pencils were sharpened. I just ran pencils down. Ten, eleven, twelve, one, two, three, four—this is every day. This is damn near every day. It’s four-thirty and I’m beginning to panic. It’s like a coiling spring. I’m really unhappy. I mean, you’re going to lose the day if you keep this up long enough. Five: I start to write. Seven: I go home. That happens over and over and over again. So why don’t I work at a bank and then come in at five and start writing? Because I need those seven hours of gonging around. I’m just not that disciplined. I don’t write in the morning—I just try to write.
Seriously, go and read that Paris Review interview as soon as you can. You won’t regret it.
I leave you with a composition of my own on the Basin & Range…
Dantes View, Death Valley National Park
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