How to cope with writer’s block: Begin with ‘Dear Mother’

New Yorker essayist John McPhee shares his advice for dealing with writing paralysis.

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You try one sentence, then delete it. You try again; still nothing. Panic rises, and you begin imagining that your colleagues have found you out.

“How did she get this job? She’s not a writer!”

There’s a name for this condition, this feeling of helplessness when words won’t come.

Writer’s block.

In the April issue of The New Yorker, the 82-year-old essayist and Pulitzer Prize winner John McPhee shares the advice he’s given to former students and to his daughter, the novelist Jenny McPhee.

Say you’re writing about a grizzly bear and the words won’t come, writes McPhee.

Type this salutation across the top of the page: “Dear Mother…”

This is terrific advice, and it thrills me that it comes from one of our greatest living writers.

I have often taught the same technique in my Advanced Writing and Editing workshops with longtime colleague Jim Ylisela.

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