In Draft No. 4, author John McPhee writes, “what to include, what to leave out. Those thoughts are with you from the start.”
McPhee is a master on the writer’s craft. In his latest book, he lets us peek into his writing process. “Writing is selection, and the selection starts right at Square 1. When I am making notes, I throw in a lot of things indiscriminately, much more than I’ll ever use, but even so I am selecting. Later, in the writing itself, things get down to the narrowed choices. It’s an utterly objective situation.”
His approach is similar to mine, whether I’m tackling a writing assignment or client’s project. I gather everything I feel makes sense and treat the task at hand like a puzzle. What fits in where, does it make sense to include this or not, is this detail gratuitous or necessary? The gathering process isn’t hard. What’s hard is figuring out how to make sense of it all.
“The approach to structure in factual writing is like returning from the grocery store with materials you intend to cook for dinner,” he explains in his book. “You set them on the kitchen counter, and what’s there is what you deal with, and all you deal with. If something is red and globular, you don’t call it a tomato if it’s a bell pepper. To some extent, the structure of the composition dictates itself, and to some extent it does not.”
What I’ve learned over the years is the first draft is rarely good. Then again, it isn’t meant to be. The first draft is more about seeing what you brought home from the grocery store and figuring out what you can make of it.
It requires us to focus.
What are you focusing on this month? I have two long-term client projects that will require some attention this month to move forward, several writing assignments to file, and a few client prospects in the hopper.
Let’s do this, March!