I peruse the Wall Street Journal for the small columns, tucked into back corners of the paper, that feature noted authors. In the matter of word craft, these gems offer wonderful ideas plus great writing. This Sunday (12/19/10), author John McPhee discussed writing leads and he captured the notion of "wading around in your notes, getting nowhere." You lack structure and your piece is a mess.
"Writing a successful lead can illuminate the problem for you and cause you to see the piece whole." Indeed, with the lead, you can build the structure, frame it in, and start spackling.
"A lead should not be cheap, flashy, meretricious, blaring: After a tremendous fanfare of verbal trumpets, a mouse comes out of a hole, blinking." I've been guilty of too much promise, and then not enough oomph. The lead shouldn't promise too much. Too much teasing sets up the reader for disappointment.
"A lead is good not because it dances, fires cannons or whistles like a train, but because it is absolute to what follows."
I wanted to share these key column points with my writer and reader friends. I hope it helps everyone to take the lead in good journalism, prose, and even in that Christmas or New Year letter still to be written.