Book Review: Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process by John McPhee

Draft No. 4: On the Writing ProcessDraft No. 4: On the Writing Process by John McPhee

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A must-read for anyone who wants to write nonfiction, Draft No. 5 is a collection of essays about the writing process by John McPhee, long-time staff writer for The New Yorker. With smooth writing that makes reading effortless and vivid anecdotes from his writing life, McPhee covers different aspects of the writing process, with repeated themes of clarity, precision, and omission. I found myself copying down paragraphs into my journal, including particularly resonant passages on writer’s block and self-doubt. Here are a few favorites:

  • “Young writers find out what kind of writers they are by experiment. If they choose from the outset to practice exclusively a form of writing because it is praised in the classroom or otherwise carries appealing prestige, they are vastly increasing the risk inherent in taking up writing in the first place. It is so easy to misjudge yourself and get stuck in the wrong genre.”
  • “If you lack confidence in setting one word after another and sense that you are stuck in a place from which you will never be set free, if you feel sure that you will never make it and were not cut out to do this, if your prose seems stillborn and you completely lack confidence, you must be a writer.”
  • “The adulating portrait of the perfect writer who never blots a line comes Express Mail from fairyland.”

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