Vegetables: Interview with John McPhee

One of my very favorite writers in the world is an essayist named John McPhee, who has been writing for the New Yorker for over 40 years now. I just re-read one of his collections, Uncommon Carriers, and so I was delighted to read a lengthy interview with him in the Paris Review. (No, I do not subscribe to such a highfalutin publication. I happened to see the interview mentioned elsewhere.)

I knew this already, but I was reminded again that the eminent Mr. McPhee is just around the corner from me – he lives and works in Princeton, and he still teaches a seminar in nonfiction writing at the university. Oh, how I would like to take that class! He’s 79 years old, and I’m going to have to win the lottery pretty soon in order to make that happen. I should be paying closer attention to see if he does any lectures in town there.

My very favorite part of the interview was this (emphasis mine):

“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.”

The procrastinator in me is always deeply happy to read things like this.

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