Learning to live and write like John McPhee of The New Yorker

November 27, 2017 | Writing


John McPhee — perhaps the most revered narrative nonfiction journalist of our time — has just authored his 30th book, this one is titled Draft No. 4, and it is an explanation of the writing process. McPhee’s publisher is presenting it as a “master class” on the craft of writing, McPhee-style.

New York Times Magazine, in a major feature about the 86-year-old McPhee, writes that he has built a career on “small detonations of knowledge.” His mind is pure curiosity. It aspires to flow into every last corner of the world, especially the places most of us overlook. Literature has always sought transcendence in purportedly trivial subjects (“a world in a grain of sand,” as Blake put it) but few have ever pushed the impulse further than McPhee. He once wrote an entire book about oranges, called, simply, Oranges. In 1999, McPhee won a Pulitzer Prize for his 700-page geology collection, Annals of the Former World, which explains for the general reader how all of North America came to exist.

Click here to read the article, written by Sam Anderson, a book reviewer, author, and critic at large for The New York Times Magazine.

6 self-editing tips for improving your copy

November 24, 2017 | Writing

6 self-editing tips for improving your copy
Some writing lands on editors’ desk in excellent form, but a lot of it requires serious work with the red pen. Generally, editors are happy to help their writers to develop better copy. The most annoying thing, though, is when writers fail at the most basic technical writing hurdles. They should not spend their time replacing adverbs with strong verbs or changing from passive to active voice. These changes can and should be completed by the writer when they do their own first edit. Lisa Lepki — an independent author, a staffer at ProWritingAid.com, and an active member of the “grammar police” — says taking a little time for self-editing can impress your editor and readers and improve your writing skills. She cites six common ... (click on the headline to continue reading)

The 7 hallmarks of exquisite writing

November 20, 2017 | Writing

Dr. Dawn Field is a book lover interested in what makes great writing. After a 20 year career as a research scientist, her first book, Biocode, was published by Oxford University Press. Now a columnist of The Double Helix, Field is looking to collaborate with a range of fiction writers as a writing coach, editor and consultant on the publishing process. She is off to a great start with this blog post that outlines the seven attributes of exquisite writing. After reading her post, think in terms of applying the principles to your own writing, and keep in mind that these seven attributes — though focused on fiction writing — are just as applicable to other forms of writing, including business writing. These are your goals: use … (click the headline to continue reading)

The most important characteristic of a successful piece of writing

April 24, 2017 | Writing

What makes a story, or any document, successful? I’m with Chip Scanlan of the Poynter Institute, a newspaper think tank and research organization, who reasons that a successful story should give readers a single, dominant message. What is the single, dominant message of your story, report, white paper, staff memo, etc.? If you don’t have one, reconsider your approach. Are you going too broad and trying to make too many points? Is your document a scattershot of information? The dreaded “data dump” inevitably leaves readers confused and searching for the point the writer is trying to make. Successful stories have a narrow laser-like focus; only then is it able to deliver that single, dominant message to the reader. That is how we achieve clarity with our writing — by delivering to the reader a single point. Yes, that point is supported by several other points or examples of bits of data. But in the final analysis, the reader understands with absolute certainty the point of our document. Follow this simple four-step format ... (click the headline to continue reading)

Some tips that will help you improve your slide design

April 17, 2017 | Presentations

A good presentation depends, at least partly, on good slide design. Surprisingly, if you want to make great presentation slides, it helps to understand a little bit about the human attention span.
Let’s start with you, says Catrinel Bartolomeu, head of editorial at Duarte, Inc., one of the great presentation design houses in the country. Bartolomeu asks us to picture ourselves arriving at the last presentation we attended. We were probably one of many people there and could melt into the crowd; we were interested, but preoccupied. We had a phone in our pocket, a to-do list in our head, and our next meal on our mind. The presenter was vulnerable. In the next few moments, she could ... (click on the headline to continue)

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