I’m a few New Yorker issues behind but I just loved this piece by John McPhee about working with various editors at the magazine over the years. He talks about how he filed an 80,000-word story and editor Robert Gottlieb called him to discuss it in detail THE FOLLOWING MORNING.
Yes! This article is so wonderful; I have read the New Yorker for a very long time and I always look forward to John McPhee’s pieces like they’re letters from a pleasant avuncular old friend. Below is the part that hit me most pointedly of this one, in which McPhee is speaking of Wallace Shawn:
…he understood the disjunct kinship of creative work— every kind of creative work— and time. The most concise summation of it I’ve ever encountered was his response to a question I asked him just before we closed my first New Yorker profile and he sent it off to press. After all those one-on-one sessions […] I finally said in wonderment, “How can you afford to use so much time and go into so many things in such detail with just one writer when this whole enterprise is yours to keep together?”
He said, “It takes as long as it takes.”
As a writing teacher, I have repeated that statement to two generations of students. If they are writers, they will never forget it.