Draft No. 4 by John McPhee wasn’t what I expected. The sub-title is on the writing process and I was expecting it to be an analytical approach to the writing process. Instead, it was largely a memoir, not that this wasn’t interesting, but not what I anticipated.

McPhee began his writing career at the Time magazine and progressed to writing for the New Yorker in 1963 and he still writes for them (though not regularly, as he is now 89). He is well-known for his style which came to be known as creative nonfiction. Through telling stories about the many articles and books he has written, John reveals some hidden writing gems.

I was surprised by his huge commitment to the structure of the book or article, yet I can now see the value of this. The structure might take him weeks to figure out, but once he had this worked out the rest of the material that he had collected and researched fell into place.

Another writing gem was the knowledge that it took him vastly different amounts of time to write his articles. This had little to do with the word count. Some articles just take longer than others. He commented, “it takes as long as it takes.” Knowing this has helped me feel more relaxed about my own writing process.

John also comments on the editing process, the quirks of publishers, the research, the checking of facts and the importance of knowing what to leave out.

Overall an interesting and enlightening read.