You are currently browsing the monthly archive for June 2012.

In the last few days I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the craft and process of long-form science and non-fiction storytelling. I like the bit below from an interview with author John McPhee quite a lot. It’s true — in non-fiction a pepper never gets to be a tomato. It has to be a pepper.

I always say to my classes that [writing nonfiction is] analogous to cooking a dinner. You go to the store and you buy a lot of things. You bring them home and you put them on the kitchen counter, and that’s what you’re going to make your dinner out of. If you’ve got a red pepper over here—it’s not a tomato. You’ve got to deal with what you’ve got. You don’t have an ideal collection of material every time out.

Edited to add – His description of the process is also pretty darn amazing:

It may sound like I’ve got some sort of formula by which I write. Hell, no! You’re out there completely on your own—all you’ve got to do is write. OK, it’s nine in the morning. All I’ve got to do is write. But I go hours before I’m able to write a word. I make tea. I mean, I used to make tea all day long. And exercise, I do that every other day. I sharpened pencils in the old days when pencils were sharpened. I just ran pencils down. Ten, eleven, twelve, one, two, three, four—this is every day. This is damn near every day. It’s four-thirty and I’m beginning to panic. It’s like a coiling spring. I’m really unhappy. I mean, you’re going to lose the day if you keep this up long enough. Five: I start to write. Seven: I go home. That happens over and over and over again. So why don’t I work at a bank and then come in at five and start writing? Because I need those seven hours of gonging around. I’m just not that disciplined. I don’t write in the morning—I just try to write.



All content on Notes From the Dry Side is 100 percent mine unless stated. Please do not use or repurpose without first asking permission. I can be reached from the contact page on this site.