6. Semi Rules

Chapter: Not Posts
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A couple of outtakes, from one of my favorite Paris Review interviews: “John McPhee, the Art of Nonfiction No. 3,” (or, if you prefer, as he would, let’s call it “The Literature of Fact”):

On transitions: “You look for good juxtapositions. If you’ve got good juxtapositions, you don’t have to worry about what I regard as idiotic things, like a composed transition. If your structure really makes sense, you can make some jumps and your reader is going to go right with you.” I love, as you know, a good juxtaposition and eschew, hard not to say so now, idiotic things.

On structure: “Structure is not a template. It’s not a cookie cutter. It’s something that arises organically from the material once you have it.” Fits with my plan to write a book about writing (or life!) called Semi Rules.

On process, take 1: “I don’t write in the morning—I just try to write.” I’m right there with you, Johnny Mac! (Oh, wait, in the afternoon you actually do write? Interesting.) Also, speaking only for myself now, the definition of try can be pretty amorphous and indefinite, a problem in and of itself.

On process take 2: transcribing notes, reading and re-reading notes, categorizing notes; it’s all about living with the material, organic (that word again) shaping and building. It’s not just about time but, as I’ve been saying to my students recently, time over time.

On teaching: “I suppose one of the hard things for a young writer is to learn that there’s no obvious path.” And if it seems like there is one—again, in writing or life—it’s time to worry or, at least, consider whether obvious is a trap, fool’s gold, boring as hell.

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