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Category: John McPhee

Light reading

“In the search for words, thesauruses are useful things, but they don’t talk about the words they list.  They are also dangerous.  They can lead you to choose a polysyllabic and fuzzy word when a simple and clear one is better.  The value of a thesaurus is not to make a writer seem to have a vast vocabulary of recondite words.  The value of a thesaurus is in the assistance it can give you in finding the best possible word for the mission that the word is supposed to fulfill.  Writing teachers and journalism courses have been known to compare them to crutches and to imply that no writer of any character or competence would use them.  At best, thesauruses are mere rest stops in the search for the mot juste.  Your destination is the dictionary.” – John McPhee, “Draft No. 4″

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Stick a fork in it

“People often ask how I know when I’m done—not just by when I’ve come to the end, but in all the drafts and revisions and substitutions of one word for another how do I know there is no more to do?  When am I done?  I just know.  I’m lucky that way.  What I know is that I can’t do any better; someone else might do better, but that’s all I can do; so I call it done.” – John McPhee, “Structure”

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