Literature

Some Advice From John McPhee

In this week’s New Yorker:

“The writing impulse seeks its only level and isn’t always given a chance to find it. You can’t make up your mind in a Comp Lit class that you’re going to be a Russian novelist. Or even an American novelist. Or a poet. Young writers find out what kinds of writers they are by experiment. If they choose from the outset to practice exclusively a form of writing because it is praised in the classroom or otherwise carries appealing prestige, they are vastly increasing the risk inherent in taking up writing in the first place. It is so easy to misjudge yourself and get stuck in the wrong genre. You avoid that, early on, by writing in every genre. If you are telling yourself you’re a poet, write poems. Write a lot of poems. If fewer that one work out, throw them all away; you’re not a poet. Maybe you’re a novelist. You won’t know until you have written several novels.”

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