File Size: 3096 KB
Print Length: 208 pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (September 5, 2017)
Publication Date: September 5, 2017
Don't tell McPhee this, but I am writing a SPEECH using his writing book as guidance. It makes the creative process fun.,This is a superbly written guide to writing creative non-fiction. It is also an entertaining memoir of McPhee's writing life, especially for The New Yorker magazine. Their are eight chapters, each formerly published in The New Yorker, on topics like Structure, Frame of Reference, and Omission, Many of these contain useful technical advice about writing creative non-fiction. All eight chapters contain interesting, and often humorous, personal anecdotes and observations. He even offers a little encouragement to writers trying to write.
The book is 192 pages long and I wish it had been twice as long just so that I could have lingered in McPhee's enjoyable company. Fortunately he has published many other books that I will start re-reading now. Highly Recommended!,If you want to learn about a subject and how to master it, why not learn from someone at the top of their profession? John McPhee is a professor of journalism at Princeton, writes for The New Yorker and has published thirty books. As a guide to the writing process I found Draft No. 4 to be insightful, illuminating (without being pedantic) and helpful. McPhee’s writes with humility and humor without getting up on a high horse. I have written two non-fiction books and am looking to write more and his book has motivated me to pursue my projects with more vigor. I thought as a new writer that I was in a minority being overcome with self-doubt. McPhee explains that (in his view) real writers are those that doubt themselves and are often discouraged and in a state of despair. He points out that if you lack confidence and struggle with writing that you must be a real writer, and conversely if you describe yourself as someone who “loves to write,” that you are probably delusional. I’m not sure if he intended this to be humorous or not but I found it to ring true, (although I both love to write and struggle.)
The subtitle of the book reflects the contents more accurately, “On the Writing Process,” although Draft No. 4 is catchier and refers to his suggested ratio of writing to editing, that is, his advice to get something down on paper and then keep editing. He states that he has a finished product after his fourth draft, although I normally do quite a few more revisions. In spots the book has a little bit of an inside baseball feel, although delightfully so if you love the written word, as he gives insights into what makes The New Yorker such an esteemed publication and the neverending tussle between a writer and copy editor.
For me, the lasting parts of the book are the truisms that he identifies: even though you may write for only 2-3 hours a day, your mind is working 24 hours a day: while you are sleeping, driving, and puttering around your subconscious mind is looking for words or phrases to help your prose. Also, how he highlights or brackets words that aren’t exactly right and then goes back during editing and searches for more perfect words and for clarity. As he says, “. . . there is elegance in the less ambiguous way.” Draft No. 4 takes its place on my bookshelf next to my dictionary, Strunk & White, the Chicago Manual of Style and a thesaurus.
Writing is a solitary and often lonely process and McPhee lets you know that you’ve got company. His book feels borderline illicit, like he is taking some of the mystery out of the writing process and he (thankfully) lets you in on some of the secrets. I wish it were longer than 192 pages, I could have devoured more.,I wished it had been at least twice as long. A master class in creative nonfiction.,A very interesting and enjoyable book. That final two chapters have some great ideas for someone who is writing a nonfiction book.,Excellent. Ample anecdotes. Good insights.,Most of the compiled material was previously published in the pages of The New Yorker, but John McPhee (otherwise known as the patron saint of literary nonfiction) has released another must-read. Draft No. 4 is colorful without being flowery, and useful without being preachy. The book is, as he would want, economical with its prose but powerful in its impact. For writers -- and readers -- or simply those who want to get inside the brain of a professional who wields words in service of story, this book is written for and about you.,Through his long career in journalism, John McPhee imbued all of his very factual topics -- geology, transportation, environment, and sport-- with drama and anecdote. In this compilation of articles mostly written for The New Yorker on the craft of writing creative non-fiction, McPhee gives us a glimpse of how he creates his magic.
I read this less as a writing guide, although that is what it is, and more as biography. McPhee himself and his long career is the topic that is interwoven through the chapters and that I found so interesting. What we learn most from McPhee is about the integrity of choosing one's own topics and approach, connecting with all sorts of people, taking a balanced stand for what is right, and the extreme dedication to craft required for transcendent exposition.
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