Monday, May 29, 2023

Review: Draft No. 4, by John McPhee


Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process, by John McPhee. Essays. 2018, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

If you are interested in writing, particularly nonfiction, I think Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process, by John McPhee, is probably essential reading.

It's divided into chapters by stage, more or less; he covers structure, revision, other things. Along the way he mixed in quite a bit of memoir of time spent writing for The New Yorker alongside legendary editor William Shawn. One of the most entertaining chapters covers fact-checking and the dogged professionals who do the meticulous work of checking his work. The most useful for me, from a craft perspective, was the chapter on structure; it had me drawing pictures in my notebook of the way my own writing might unfold.

I took my time reading it a bit at a time in between other things. I don't read craft books all at once. I have lots of page numbers scribbled at the end, things to refer back to, lines I liked, and a fair bit of underlining here and there. Not too much- I don't underline everything. But there are some gems. Sometimes he veers off into tangents, this or that story, background on something he wrote, an adventure somewhere, but it's all there to illustrate his points about effective writing.

It's definitely a book I'll keep in my library. I don't get rid of books on writing anymore; when I started writing again earlier this year I had to go replace a few that I'd discarded when I thought I wouldn't write again. Having Natalie Goldberg staring down at me from a shelf when I hadn't written anything in years was more than I could take. Draft No. 4 was the first book I read when I started writing again and it won't be the last, but it will the first to be added to my permanent collection.

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

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