The PJ Tatler

John McPhee at the Paris Review

John McPhee is one of my favorite writers; in general anything I write, and particularly anything I write as non-fiction, is influenced by reading his books, like Basin and Range and La Place de la Concorde Suisse.  There is a long interview with him published in the Paris Review that I’d recommend.  Here’s one excerpt:

He spoke so softly. I was awestruck: [William Shawn is] the editor of The New Yorker and he’s this mysterious person. It was the most transforming event of my writing existence, meeting him, and you could take a hundred years to try to get to know him, and this was just the first day. But he was a really encouraging editor. Shawn always functioned as the editor of new writers, so he edited the Bradley thing. So I spent a lot of time in his office, talking commas. He explained everything with absolute patience, going through seventeen thousand words, a comma at a time, bringing in stuff from the grammarians and the readers’ proofs. He talked about each and every one of these items with the author. These were long sessions. At one point I said, Mr. Shawn, you have this whole enterprise going, a magazine is printing this weekend, and you’re the editor of it, and you sit here talking about these commas and semicolons with me—how can you possibly do it?

And he said, It takes as long as it takes. A great line, and it’s so true of writing. It takes as long as it takes.