Draft No. 4
by John McPhee
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
If you are experiencing writer’s block and can’t see how a story/chapter/book will materialise from your research and notes, lift your despairing head to read Draft No. 4. John McPhee’s book, however, may also persuade you to give up what you’re trying to do: “If you are telling yourself you’re a poet, write […] a lot of poems. If fewer than one work out, throw them all away; you’re not a poet.”
McPhee writes beautifully, of course. But how much work went into his 32 books should make novices and professional writers alike feel better about the number of drafts often necessary before a piece is anywhere near ready for publication.
The place to start is by devising a structure (“not a cookie cutter”), although, McPhee says, this should not be imposed on the material. And if your lead is not perfect, keep redoing it until you’re satisfied.
He also expounds on how to take notes (recording is not his first choice) and when it’s a good idea to show your subject your manuscript (in general, don’t do it). This book is for writers, but readers will also love it.