“It takes what it takes” (William Shawn, former editor of The New Yorker)
“Get that boy from the Old Vic” (Winston Churchill, referring to Richard Burton)
“Write on subjects in which you have enough interest on your own to see you through all the stops, starts, hesitations, and other impediments along the way” (John McPhee)
Draft No. 4. On the Writing Process is a must-read—an overly-used adjective that nevertheless finds a worthy subject here—for anyone that writes non-fiction. McPhee, its author, is an American writer considered one of the pioneers of creative non-fiction. He has been writing for The New Yorker since the 1960s.
In Draft No. 4, he explores different aspects of writing—structure, editors, omission, and more—drawing on his vast experience and with his unique style. It’s like peeping behind a magician’s stage, glimpsing, and even understanding, albeit just superficially, how the trick is done. Yes, I understand that you take the card and place it in your pocket; I am still unable to do it myself though.
Trying to say anything more would be doing a disservice to this book. Read it. Read it even if you do not know—I did not—who John McPhee is. Read it even if you are not very familiar—I am not—with The New Yorker. This book brings the concept of craft to a different level. Reading through the way McPhee composes a piece, one realises how much there is to improve. It is, in a sense, reassuring: there is no need to worry about reaching the destination any time in this life.