from Letters to a Young Journalist by Samuel J. Freedman

“You need to know that these techniques—identifying a single theme, outlining before writing—are not baby steps for beginners. The most accomplished nonfiction writers utilize them.”

“Robert Caro has won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, among other honors, for his epic biographies of Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson, each volume hundreds of thousands of words in length. Still, Caro once told a class of mine that he will not commence the writing process until he can express the essence of a book on a single index card.”

“John McPhee of The New Yorker occasionally has described his own version of the ‘heart of the matter statement.’ When he is struggling to start a magazine article, he begins a letter to his mother, telling her how he’s having trouble writing about this-or-that. Having thus explained the story to himself, he erases the opening sentence and continues into the article.”

One Comment

  • Mary says:

    Interestingly, I used to never use outlines or worry about themes. I would just do sortof “automatic writing,” and then I would revise a lot. I’m beginning to believe outlining and the like are actually more advanced techniques because they require a certain amount of forethought about what you’re doing. Deciding on your theme before you write means you intend to tailor your thoughts to express your intended idea. It’s actually a pretty big challenge for someone like myself who grew up writing just whatever came to mind.

    One thing I love about writing is that there are so many ways to do it. :-)

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