The long-awaited guide to writing long-form nonfiction by the legendary author and teacher

Draft No. 4 is a master class on the writer’s craft. In a series of playful, expertly wrought essays, John McPhee shares insights he has gathered over his career and has refined while teaching at Princeton University, where he has nurtured some of the most esteemed writers of recent decades. McPhee offers definitive guidance in the decisions regarding arrangement, diction, and tone that shape nonfiction pieces, and he presents extracts from his work, subjecting them to wry scrutiny. In one essay, he considers the delicate art of getting sources to tell you what they might not otherwise reveal. In another, he discusses how to use flashback to place a bear encounter in a travel narrative while observing that “readers are not supposed to notice the structure. It is meant to be about as visible as someone’s bones.” The result is a vivid depiction of the writing process, from reporting to drafting to revising―and revising, and revising.

Draft No. 4 is enriched by multiple diagrams and by personal anecdotes and charming reflections on the life of a writer. McPhee describes his enduring relationships with The New Yorker and Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and recalls his early years at Time magazine. Throughout, Draft No. 4 is enlivened by his keen sense of writing as a way of being in the world.

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This article has 3 comments

  1. Anonymous

    A Great book that makes writing fun. As a High School student in Casper, Wyoming, 65 years ago, I had to write some essays which included drawing up a formal outline first and then letting the outline direct the writing process. I never could do that. I had to write first and then write the outline last. I got John McPhee’s book “Draft No. 4. WOW, he talks about how to organize your work. His method is far superior to any that I have seen. This is the advice from the best writer and is what I should have been doing all along…

  2. Anonymous

    Memoir and Good Advice About Writing Creative Non-Fiction 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…

  3. Anonymous

    Some of writings secrets revealed by a master of the trade 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…

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