Writers on Writing – John McPhee


John McPhee, the great American factual writer (he doesn’t like the word nonfiction: “nonfiction — what the hell, that just says, this is nongrapefruit we’re having this morning. It doesn’t mean anything. You had nongrapefruit for breakfast; think how much you know about that breakfast”) on why writing is hard but not writing is impossible:

I was a very nervous writer about my own work, and am to this day. I never have any confidence when I start out on a story. I gain confidence after the first draft is written. But before the first draft is written, I’m almost as lacking in confidence now as I was back then…. I think it’s totally rational for a writer, no matter how much experience he has, to go right down in confidence to almost zero when you sit down to start something. Why not? Your last piece is never going to write your next one for you….
[Yet] Writing is a sustaining thing. I decided when I was young that I wanted to write, so that’s what I do. If I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t know what to do. Without it I’d probably croak.
-John McPhee

From a Paris Review interview .

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