Book Cover
Draft No. 4

★ ★

TL;DR: Nonfiction version of On Writing

  • Good source of perceptual exposure options for narrative writing



  • so sound asleep that his mouth fell open wider than a golf ball. (12)


  • Then, as I do now, I settled on an ending before going back to the beginning. (19)
  • Readers are not supposed to notice the structure. It is meant to be about as visible as someone’s bones. And I hope this structure illustrates what I take to be a basic criterion for all structures: they should not be imposed upon the material. They should arise from within it. (34)
  • A piece of writing has to start somewhere, go somewhere, and sit down when it gets there. You do that by building what you hope is an unarguable structure. Beginning, middle, end. Aristotle, page 1. (34)
  • You should always write your lead […] before you go at the big pile of raw material and sort it into a structure. (49)
  • The lead–like the title–should be a flashlight that shines down into the story. A lead is a promise. It promises that the piece of writing is going to be like this. If it is not going to be so, don’t use the lead. (50)

Editors & Publisher


  • Whatever you do, don’t rely on memory. (94)
  • Do enough preparation to be polite (97)

Frame of Reference

  • The last thing I would ever suggest to young writers is that they consciously try to write for the ages. Oh, yik, disgusting. Nobody should ever be trying that. We should just be hoping that our pieces aren’t obsolete before the editor sees them. If you look for allusions and images that have some durability, your choices will stabilize your piece of writing. Don’t assume that everyone on earth has seen every movie you have seen. (118)


Draft No. 4

  • Combat writer’s block: write “Dear Mother”, go with what comes to mind, snip off the salutation
  • After reading the second draft aloud, and going through the piece for the third time, I enclose words and phrases in pencilled boxes for Draft No. 4. If I enjoy anything in this process it is Draft No. 4. (161)
    • Titular
  • The dictionary definitions of words you are trying to replace are far more likely to help you out than a scattershot wad from a thesaurus. (162)


  • An instantly likable guy if the instant had not been this one. (179)
    • Great writing