Friday, December 31, 2010

"A Lead is a Promise"

What is more welcome than a new piece by John McPhee, and on writing, of all things!

This article ("Writing a Strong Lead is Half the Battle"--the quote in my blog title comes near the end) is from the Wall Street Journal. It's short and to the point and everyone who writes should read it.

I don't consider myself a journalist; my degree is in history. But I love to write and want to write well. Like many, many freelancers these days, I find myself working for Patch a lot, so I'm learning to write a lead.

Or, as some purists would have it, lede. Thank you, Mr. McPhee, for spelling it "lead." That makes me feel less like an outsider. "Lede" seems to be the secret handshake that proves one went to journalism school.

McPhee is one of my heroes. I know little about hiim except that he writes great articles and books about the things he finds interesting. His writing is always exactly right--the pacing, the unrolling of facts, the subtle story behind the facts. If I set out to emulate him in everything I write--except the fiction--I would do quite well, I believe.

I'm not the only one who thinks he's a joy to read, of course. Everyone loves him--his book Giving Good Weight was passed around by engineers at the aerospace company I once worked for, and believe me, those guys don't normally read anything but schematics. McPhee won a Pulitzer Prize for Annals of the Former World.

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