Inspiration from John McPhee

This morning, I attended a reading at Hofstra University by John McPhee, who has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1965. McPhee is the author of 28 books, all published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Encounters with the Archdruid and The Curve of Binding Energy were nominated for National Book Awards, and Annals of the Former World was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1999. Silk Parachute is a new book of McPhee’s prose pieces. (Read the book review from The New York Times here.)

The author read two pieces from Silk Parachute. Unfortunately, while I enjoyed the first reading, an excerpt from a piece titled, “Spin Right and Shoot Left,” about the sport of lacrosse, I spent most of it petrified that my cell phone, which I had forgotten to turn off, would ring, particularly after McPhee politely asked a photographer to refrain from taking so many photos because it was distracting. I imagined the author wouldn’t be too keen on Matt Nathanson’s “Come On Get Higher” wafting through the cultural center either. Thankfully, before McPhee began his second reading, an excerpt from “Checkpoints,” a piece about fact-checking, I was able to find my phone and silence the ringer. Whew!

During the question and answer portion of the reading, McPhee was asked about his advice to writers who are in the middle of a long project, how to keep motivated. My ears, of course, perked up.

McPhee said, “Writing teaches writing.” He advocated writing blogs, writing anything, because in all the volume of what we do is where we find who we are.

He also said that when writing a book, it’s quite normal to lose confidence along the way. “I do. We all do,” he said. “Don’t worry about it. And don’t turn back.”

I wanted to leap into the air and give the mild-mannered McPhee a “woo hoo” and big fist-pump. He had spoken, out loud, the very things I’ve said to myself for months, maybe years: Don’t worry about it. Keep writing. Don’t turn back. Instead, I just smiled, nodded my head, scribbled notes on an index card, and bought myself a Silk Parachute.

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One thought on “Inspiration from John McPhee

  1. Thanks for this post, Dina. It’s reassuring to hear that, when writing a book, it’s normal to lose confidence along the way. Because I sure have. I’ve lost confidence, steam, motivation….you name it. But fortunately, I haven’t lost the desire to finish. I’m willing to admit that maybe the timing is bad at the moment, as far as focusing on it. But I’m not willing to give up.

    I also like hearing that the act of writing itself is good–any writing–even if it’s not necessarily on the book manuscript.

    Best of luck with your novel!

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