(c) 2003 Toomas Karmo. You are welcome to distribute copies of this essay either in a paper printing not exceeding 10 copies or electronically, without asking my explicit permission, provided you do not modify or omit any of the contents, including this paragraph. Please contact me if you wish to use this material for other purposes, such as magazine publication. Network location of authoritative file version: http://www.metascientia.com/, literary-pages section. Revision history: 20030611T022433Z/version_0001.0002 (tiny repairs), 20030403T185851Z/version_0001.0000.

Logic Blueprints
Take the Stress Out of
Writing Nonfiction

1. And Today We Learn How To...

Here's some advice for the amateur nonfiction writer.

You'll find my hints useful if you are a senior citizen, about to create half a dozen philosophical essays for a Web site. (One of the first people to study these hints, in April of 2003, was precisely such a senior citizen - a commercial client, in fact, for whom I was charging a special low hourly rate.) You'll also find my hints useful if you are a high-school or university student, about to create a term paper.

If you are a more advanced reader, such as an English teacher, or a professional author or professional editor, you may still find some of my ideas helpful.

In my next section, I sum up the conventional wisdom from authorities who write about writing. Perhaps you have seen such advice many times. Perhaps, however, having seen the conventional wisdom only a few times, you can do with a gentle reminder.

In the third (the final) section of my hints, I present my own ideas on one particular aspect of writing, namely the planning of your piece. As far as I know from reading the authorities, my specific hints are not presented at adequate length elsewhere. Consequently, I've made that final section rather long, rather detailed.

2. Basic Do's and Don'ts in Nonfiction Writing

(a) One of the first pieces of advice the authorities give us is to read.

Time for reading cannot be frittered away on the boob tube. Nor can time for reading be frittered away on the Reader's Digest, Newsweek, or Tom Clancy. Further, what promises to be productive, soul-enhancing reading when we in Canada pick up the Globe and Mail frequently proves, forty-five misspent minutes later, not to be.

So what do we do with our precious reading time? We read serious stuff, for the most part from books.

On one particular quiet day, we will perhaps look at Jeremy Rifkin's new analysis of the hydrogen economy. On another such day, we'll perhaps try serious nonacademic theology, say from Chesterton's Orthodoxy if we aspire to be sensible Catholics, or from Andrew Sullivan's Love Undetectable if we're feeling rambunctious.

Since the summer 1940 Battle of Britain is significant at levels transcending the military and political, we'll be grateful for the 135 trenchantly argued pages of Richard Overy's new Penguin, The Battle. In general, we'll take it that tiny dashes of history, from historians of substance, are useful in broadening even the nonhistorian's outlook.

Although our attitude to high literary culture, as pushed at us in university Departments of English, will stay sceptical, we will concede to our professors that even fiction can occasionally impart lessons. At some point we will no doubt find ourselves blinking back the tears as we see the broken David Copperfield, wandering in Switzerland, opening the letter from England that turns his life around. At some other point we will no doubt get the goose-pimples from Hamlet. ("What, has this thing appeared again tonight?" asks the sentry on the ramparts at Elsinore. Shakespeare doesn't write "spectre" or "phantom" or "shade". What he writes is "thing". The "thing" is Hamlet's dad, dead and buried a few weeks ago. That's on page one, where we get the first hint that all is not well in Hamlet's, ahem, intimate circle.)

(b) We must add to our general diet of reading a book or two about the actual craft of writing. All the authorities are fulsome in their praise of Strunk and White's Elements of Style. It's clear why: we really do have to trim away unnecessary words, we really do have to stop writing "begin"/"large"/"spectre" where the plain Anglo-Saxon "start"/"big"/"thing" will get our idea across; and Prof. William Strunk, Jr., now posthumously helped by E.B. White, has been explaining the knack for about eight decades.

Since 1990, we have a second interesting book to investigate, namely Joseph M. Williams's Toward Clarity and Grace. Williams makes original points about paragraph organization and the flow of thought. Perhaps we're confronted here with a second how-to-write classic, destined to be reprinted even in 2050 and 2090 and 2130. (And, as it happens, Williams is, of the authorities on writing that I have examined, the best companion to the particular approach to planning that I'll be showing you in my next section.)

Since reading is a momentous act, we have to exercise thought and care in deciding where to do it. Picking a reading spot is a bit like picking an upscale restaurant. Personally, I'm fond of the cafe in the Indigo bookstore at Toronto's Manulife Centre. I also find my crank most mightily turned by the new Trinity College library at the University of Toronto. It's hard to fault a place that puts a fireplace on every floor, even if the logs are fake and the flames come from gas. Further, the library window view of Trinity's formal garden, with its severe green lawns, its severe rectangular pool, its severe iron fencing, seems to do the right kind of honour to books in history and theology.

(c) As all the authorities say, we must first create the appropriate work space for writing, then stock it with the appropriate tools.

As I delight to read in bookstore cafes, so too was I delighted lately to see a poet of my acquaintance settle with her husband and laptop computer into a bookstore cafe. I hope she was crafting some of her verse. Personally, however, although I tend to read all over town, I like to write at home, in a cramped but silent room.

When it comes to tools, we recall that much of the finest work has been done (perhaps some of it still is being done) in handwriting on paper. But we recognize also that the computer can be used in various creative ways.

I, for my part, deliberately distance myself from the conventional office environment. I use the Unix text editors vi and emacs in place of a conventional word processor, and Linux in place of the conventional Microsoft or Macintosh operating systems.

I find the computer essential for filing notes and facts, under the Library of Congress system familiar to us from university library shelves. (The local municipal library is liable to use, instead, the less satisfactory Dewey Decimal System.)

Here's the essence of that Library of Congress scheme: we assign subject classification letters, with "A" as a catch-all for "general works"; B for philosophy, psychology, and religion; C, D, E, and F for various aspects of history and travel; G for geography; H for social science; J for political sciences; K for law; L for education; M for music; N for fine arts; P for language and literature; QA, QB, QC, and QD for mathematics, astronomy, physics, and chemistry; R for medicine; S for agriculture; T for technology; U for military matters outside the navy; V for naval matters; and Z for editing, publishing, and librarianship.

Now suppose that my writing task requires me to retrieve a fact - as it might be, a treatment of diarrhea in a developing country, where Lomotil is unavailable or inappropriate. In my particular Linux-driven setup, I make a couple of keystrokes, including the subject-area code "R", to bring up my medical fact file, arranged as a book index, and in a split second find myself scanning a note that I made from reading a few weeks ago:

  diarrhea, treatment of, 
  in developing-nation environment
  __into 1.5 L of water: 1 heaped tsp salt, 
    12 level tsp sugar
    __take 1 L of soln daily, 
      interspersed with daily total
      of 3 L plain water

Again, suppose that my writing task requires me to retrieve some resources for the theology of manual labour. I can't immediately recall anyone who writes on that topic. But I do recall reading about manual labour this past winter. I found an interesting reference back then, and I dimly recall matching that reference to the very book I encountered in a retreat at a Pennsylvania monastery three years ago. Did I put the reference into my philosophy-psychology-theology resources file, when I copied the contents of my daily breast-pocket reading cards into the computer? In my Linux-driven setup, I make a couple of keystrokes, including the subject-area code "B", and in a split second indeed find myself scanning a note I made last winter:

  labour, theology of manual
  __Fr {rembert.sorg} _Toward a 
    Theology of Manual Labour_

Although many writers no doubt swear by commercial databases, I implement everything with the simplest appropriate tools, in the spirit of the Small is Beautiful economist E.F. Schumacher. My computer contains a bundle of fact files on the one hand and a bundle of pointers-to-further-resources files on the other hand, in both cases in what the computer people might call "tagless ASCII" format. That's essentially the computer technology of the 1970s, and yet its speed, capacity, and accuracy are all a writer could ask for. (In general, part of the art in computer engineering is figuring out what not to buy.)

(d) The authorities insist that if we write, we are to revise ruthlessly. The version of Walden which Henry David Thoreau delivered to the printer was his eighth - as I learned recently from p. 32 of Philip van Doren Stern, ed., The Annotated "Walden" (New York: Bramhall House, 1970).

Revising sometimes involves a peculiarly savage kind of recycling. We may find ourselves helping a commercial client turn her unsuccessful book into a more promising set of essays. We may find ourselves embarking on a series of essays of our own, which we intend later to pull together into a book. We may find ourselves attacking an unsuccessful play with a chainsaw a year after we drafted it, replacing the final scene with new material, and in the process quite altering our dramatic judgement on some controversial social topic, such as twelve-step recovery groups.

(e) The authorities agree that writing is a high and serious calling. It is useful to keep the image of a sacred flame before the mind's eye. (If I were designing a library myself, I'd perhaps omit the faux gas fireplaces, but would decorate the foyer with a sacred flame in a reflecting pool.) It is useful also to read Thoreau's Walden chapter on readers, recalling especially his remark, "How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book."

And it is useful to visit the writing-and-publishing shelves of the big bookstores, taking seriously such things as Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul. Vulgar, you say? But the very first story in the book is an unconscious echo of Walden. In that story, an Alberta writer, Judith A. Chance, describes her work with a disadvantaged child learning to read:

When he finished reading, Ronny closed his book, stroked the cover with his grubby hand and said with great satisfaction, "Good book." ... At that moment, I knew I would get serious about my own writing career and do what that author had done, and probably still does - care enough to write a story that changes a child's life, care enough to make a difference.

3. Beyond the Basics:
Working with a Logic Blueprint

Now I am ready to offer my own, distinctive, advice.

We cannot overemphasize the importance of structure. The publishing industry distinguishes a mere copyedit from a structural edit. The copyeditor works through the author's draft sentence by sentence, essentially repairing the grammar and punctuation while keeping eyes open for ambiguities and inconsistencies. The more highly paid and more senior structural editor, by contrast, is authorized to do major surgery, such as the transposing of paragraphs or the splitting of chapters, and is honoured by publishing-house management in so doing.

It is astonishing how bad an author's structure can become. A colleague of mine at the Editors' Association of Canada lately complained that she had been given a couple of hundred pages of pastoral theology (or, perhaps, rather, of crudely evangelical moral exhortation - the author had struggled heroically to overcome severe disadvantages in education and upbringing). The book had no chapter divisions at all! I note with sorrow that my small commercial client, whose case has stimulated me to write this essay, was in nearly as awkward a position with one version of his book, having divided his 256 double-spaced pages into just four chapters. Ominously, while the last three had about the length one would expect of book chapters, the first one finished on page 161.

Less spectacular sins against structure get committed everywhere. An author will surprise and disappoint the editor by using a notion forty pages before explaining it. (As it might be, "the seven fundamental sorrows of humanity" - with this mildly fictitious example, I disguise slightly an issue I've encountered with the client I've just mentioned. The problem is that we are supposed to have some idea what the seven fundamental sorrows are, and yet have to read for another full hour before we get something like a partially relevant list.)

Again, authors will explain a complex point with one example where three are needed, or will illustrate a simple point with three examples where one is sufficient.

Again, authors will - even if a chapter is of considerable length, amounting to perhaps 40 doublespaced pages - neglect to supply descriptive section headings within the chapter.

Again, authors will make the same point twice, rather briefly both times, where the argument requires the point to be developed at proper length just once. Or, conversely, they will make a complex point just once, where the intricacy of the argument in fact requires recapitulation and summary.

Above all, authors will write without a clear goal. A few years ago I had to rescue a piece of political theory, as editor on a volunteer project. It was clear that that particular author was interested in John Locke. But what was the nature of the interest? Was the author defending Locke against critics? Was the author siding with the critics? Was the author's aim neither to uphold nor to criticize, but merely to summarize Locke's thought in neutral terms? (In the end, I had to go into urban guerilla mode, shrewdly and brutally deciding that the third possible goal was all the author had entertained, and then settling down less to edit than to ghost-write. It took days to get the essay into even wretched shape.)

We must, then, have some systematic way of discouraging sins against structure.

Although I have been writing in one way or another since 1970 and 1971, when as a first-year undergraduate I composed my weak unpublished two-hundred-page history of Nova Scotia's Truro region, I evolved an effective technique only in the runup to the recent dot-com bubble. That was when I was trying to earn a partial living in Toronto, writing for commercial Web clients. Since my method is now perhaps five years old, it's time (just barely time) to expose it to a wider public.

My method in a nutshell: Make the amount of time you put into writing your logic blueprint about as great as the amount of time you put into writing your first draft. Make the investment in stress and sweat - in mental energy - much greater for your blueprint than for that draft.

What I call a logic blueprint is a special kind of outline. No doubt many established writers use essentially my approach to outlining, without talking much about it in public. No doubt, also, many of the structural problems we encounter as professional editors are the result of less experienced authors' keeping the plan of their work in their heads, instead of writing the plan out - or, alternatively, of such authors' indeed writing their plan out, but mistakenly trusting in something less detailed than a logic blueprint.

A logic blueprint uses levels of formatting, including levels of indention, to show which points in the argument are logically coordinate, which points subordinate. (By the way: yes, "indention", not "indentation". That's part of the mystical jargon of publishing, along with discourse on en dashes, guillemots, and mutton quads. "Well, Charlie, I thought you knew better than to set the mathematical minus sign as an en dash or a hyphen. And while you're at it, Charlie, see if your page looks lighter once you use mutton quads for paragraph indention." - "Okay lady; doin' it now, lady.")

Here, to start with, is a fanciful example of a logic blueprint, with lots of nonsense words, such as the Unix engineer's traditional standbys "foo" and "bar":

  __this essay is an open letter of warning 
    to our leaders:
    it is NOT clear when to foo the bar  
    (_even though strident columnists like 
      * Margaret Wente  
        __she writes for the _Globe_
      * Mark Steyn
        __he writes for the _Post_
      would have us believe the issue is clear) 
  __admittedly, everyone agrees that fooing the bar 
    is okay when the froozle is a dongle
  __what is controversial is what to do 
    when the froozle is a non-dongle
    __Lester Pearson thought we should 
      foo the bar anyway
      (_we see this from this Nobel 
        Peace Prize acceptance speech, 
        given in Oslo 
        [_MEMO: check this] 
        in 19xx) 
    __Martin Luther King Jr, echoing Gandhi,       
      said on many occasions     
      that we should only foo the bar
      if we can do so without violence
    __the United Nations has in recent years
      been unable to make up its mind 
      __Kofi Annan
        (_commenting on the Rwanda massacre)
        said we should always foo the bar
      __Dr Hans Blix
        (_a few weeks before 
          diplomacy collapsed in Iraq)
        said we should avoid fooing the goozliest bars 
        until we get a ruling 
        from the International Criminal Court
        __awkwardly, the USA produces 
          85% of the world's froozles
          and yet is not a member of 
          the International Criminal Court
            statistics from UNESCO, 1999
            __alas, no more recent 
              statistics have been published)
  __can some of our current troubles be due    
    to politicians assuming
    that every question has a clearcut answer?
    [_MEMO: if time permits, 
      find some pithy decorative 
      quotation from Wittgenstein 
      on the nonexistence of clearcut answers, 
      to give this concluding point 
      a little more weight
      __can start by looking up 
        Wittgenstein on "forms of life" 
        __try not Internet search engines, 
          but back-of-book index 
          to _Philosophical Investigations_
          (_if indeed the book has 
            an index at the back) 
        __Trinity College Library 
          probably suffices for investigating
          __no need to start an 
            elaborate search in Robarts Library] 

The first thing to notice here is that the more logically subordinate a point is, the more heavily it is indented. Really fundamental points are marked with "__" right up against the left boundary of the workspace. Points which qualify those points are marked with two spaces, followed by "__". Points which qualify the qualifications are marked with four spaces, followed by "__".

Next, we notice that the really parenthetical points are isolated in special "(_", ")" parentheses. Later, when you turn from the high-stress activity of building a logical blueprint to the more relaxed task of composing your piece, you can decide how, exactly, to signal the parenthetical character of your point. In one case, you might find yourself using a footnote. In another case, you might use parentheses in the composition. In yet another instance, you might find it sufficient to use some simple verbal signal, such as "incidentally", or even to trust the reader to infer the parenthetical character of your remark without seeing an explicit signal.

We note also the use of bulleted lists, marked by asterisks, to keep items in an enumeration straight. In your subsequent act of composition, you might decide actually to create bullets. Alternatively, however, you might find it sufficient to write verbal cue words, say in the style "on the one hand the Globe's Margaret Wente, and on the other hand the Post's Mark Steyn...".

Finally, we note that where we are not actually planning the various points that go into the composition, but are commenting on the plan, we use brackets. This example has brackets twice, first for a comment on the need to check whether it was really in Oslo that Mike Pearson spoke, and later for a comment regarding possible approaches to library research. That second comment itself contains some levels of logical subordination, with a qualifying point ("can start by"), two qualifications to the qualification ("try not"; "Trinity"), a parenthetical attachment ("if indeed") to the first of those two qualifications-of-qualification, and a qualification-of-qualification-of-qualification ("no need to start") under the second.

Now I can proceed to a real-life example. To be true to life, I will take my logic blueprint straight from my project archives, without any tidying up apart from the introduction of Web-friendly line breaks, and the occasional replacement of a hasty "(" with a more careful, and more appropriately whitespaced, "(_". I had to create that blueprint at high speed in the summer of 2002, against a tight deadline for the Truro Daily News. The newspaper editorial staff had allowed me to try submitting, without formal guarantee of publication, about 700 freelance words on the papal visit to Toronto.

Here, then, is the blueprint:

__no precedent in ordinary life      
  (_the September 11 feeling) 
  __well, maybe that's not quite fair
    __Expo 67 moved to Third World 
    __picture this: vast field, 
      from onetime military airport
      toward Toronto's northern fringe, 
      marked off with string into rectangles
      (_"yellow section, nr 168"--with good 
        view of two huge
      TV screens, and distant view of the great 
      presentation stand, with its
      multistorey cross) 
    __every square foot of grass 
      space occupied by someone's sleeping
      __and gear in pretty bad shape by Sunday morning, 
        after some downpours worthy of the tropics
    __a dialogue with the whole world, as at Expo
      __a snatch of dialogue: 
        German Military Deacon Fr Simon Joachim, 
        in battle fatigues,  
        explaining theology:          
          Xian soldier is a servant 
          of peace and justice not  
          for his own nation alone, 
          but for people of all nations
      __another snatch of dialogue: 
        petite Mary Lou Maynard, 
        an Objibway of the Native People's Parish 
        celebrating her 60th birthday 
        Saturday night 
        (_"I came
          because of you guys") 
        over our simple meal of
        stew and biscuits, and filling us in on liturgy 
        with the help of her friend 
        Cookie Pitwanikwat: 
        the sacred smoke in Catholic native people's                        
        worship - I've smelled it, 
        and it makes you think
        of the woods around Truro - is in fact 
        a compound of sage, cedar, 
        sweetgrass, tobacco    
  __but really the thing is unique, without precedent    
    __since at the heart is a paradox; 
      crowd predominantly young, 
      with wealthy and well educated
      Europeans well represented; 
      and they are wowed, to the point
      of endlessly chanting "We love you, 
      JP2" by an increasingly
      frail octagenarian, 
      firm in manner and clear in speech, 
      but stooped and tired
      __how does JP2 do it?  
        __strip away the glitz 
	  (_the music, the dance, 
            the chicken-soup-for-the-soul testimonials)        
          and we are left with a witness to the young 
          from a man who is himself, 
          in his heart, young
          __on Saturday night, 
            he held up for us a contrast between
            the constructive 
            (_which he illustraed with WYD 2000, 
              in Rome) 
            and September 11                                  
            __he then asked, On what 
              foundations should we build our
              lives? on community values 
              that have regard only to 
              criteria of productivity? 
              on personal values which leave
              desires to the "impulses 
              of instinct"? The 20th century, 
              he said, often sought to 
              build the City of Man without
              reference to Christ, and 
              succeeded in building the
              city against man. 
         __on Sunday morning, he obliquely called 
           to mind the sex-abuse 
           scandals, speaking of 
           a "deep sense of sadness and shame," 
           but added, "Be not afraid 
           to follow Christ and the royal
           road of the Cross." 
        __on both days he dared us 
          to be the salt of the earth, 
          the light of the world 
        __he claimed on Sunday 
          to be old, but it's not true  
          __to be young at heart is to hope,  
            and hope was the essential 
            element in his message

That, as I say, had to be written under the gun. Tight as the deadline was, I spent a lot of time on the logic blueprint, perhaps roughly as much as it took to write the first draft. There was then a little bit of time for checking a name, for phoning the newspaper to see how the general Sunday-night rush to press was developing, and for making final revisions. The final draft is still pretty close to the blueprint. Gratifyingly, the final draft appeared in the paper the next morning with essentially no revisions, except for a bland headline where my own headline was an attention-grabber:

((REVISION_HISTORY ODER="latest first"))
*20020728T204737Z/version 0001.0000
 __polished the style
 __ran spell-checker
 __did final check of wordcount
     (_without headline, without author blurb) 
     = 708
__confirmed from Yellow Pages: 
  yes, "Native Peoples' Parish," 
  not "Native Peoples Parish"
__corrected WYD name: "World Youth Day," 
  not "World Youth Days" 
  as in earlier version 

*20020728T204737Z/version 0000.9000
 __adequate (but very rapid) 
   literary polish
   __no time to check spelling
   __had to rush to get 
     this version to _Truro Daily News_
     after strugglig with 
     jammed public transit
     __need to get back to desk 
       from site to write     

John Paul II Still Young 

Sometimes, as last September, 
we find ourselves in an experience 
without precedent. 
That's how I, and indeed most of us, 
felt at the culmination 
of 17th World Youth Day, in Toronto 
this Saturday and Sunday. 

Well, maybe I'm not being fair. If you 
were old enough to recall 
visiting Expo 67, you found
WYD at one level vaguely familiar. 
Imagine, more concretely, 
Expo moved to the Third
World. Picture this: flimsy barricades 
divide a homungous field, 
in fact a onetime military 
airport, into homungous rectangles. 
(My contingent from 
the University of Toronto
was in the "yellow section" 
of the field, in  "block 168." 
That placement gave us 
a fine view of two big screens, 
on high scaffolding, and a distant
view of the presentation stand. The cross 
crowning the stand served
as a landmark in our forays to 
distant food stations, distant 
water taps, distant suchlike.)                                                  
Now picture every square foot 
of the long, trampled, dead grass in 
those homungous 
rectangles covered in sleeping gear. 
Picture, further, the gear in 
bad shape by Sunday morning, 
a wave of tropical downpours now 
finishing, emergency garbage-bag ponchos 
now crumpled up, sleeping mats 
now baking under tropical sun.      

And imagine, further, person-to-person 
dialogue with much of the planet,
in the spirit of Expo.
All WYD pilgrims have their 
own stories. Here are two of mine. 

First tale: before making the trek 
from the campus to that
onetime airfield, I got 
briefed on theology from
Military Deacon Fr Simon Joachim. 
(He had battle fatigues, 
combat boots, and I
think the obligatory moustache.) 
The Christian soldier, he said, 
is a "servant of peace
and justice" not for his own 
nation alone, but for the people of all
nations. A deacon from the Canadian 
forces? No, German. 

Second tale: on Saturday
Mary Lou Maynard (celebrating her sixtieth 
birthday that day - "I'm here
for you guys") and her friend Cookie Pitwanikwat
of Toronto's Native Peoples' Parish briefed me 
on liturgy. To make the sacred 
smoke characteristic of aboriginal 
Catholic worship (and in fact, 
I know, sharply evocative          
of the woods in Colchester County), they said  
you use sage, cedar, sweetgrass, and tobacco. 

So maybe Expo 67 supplied 
a sort of reference point. But at a deeper level, 
the culmination of WYD was
without precedent.
Here we had over 800,000 people - many of them       
from the Nike-and-Microsoft generation, many of them 
from the affluent West - 
wowed by the most unlikely of men.
How did JP2 work his magic? 

I think - sue me for Catholic 
bias if you like, but well I'm
Catholic and what the heck - 
I think he did it 
by triumph of substance 
over style. Strip away the WYD glitz 
(the music, the dance, 
all that fancy stage ceremonial) 
and you're left with a substantial witness. 

We got the substance 
in the homily in Saturday Vespers, 
as JP2, having held up 
for us the contrast between the 2000 
Rome WYD and last September's carnage, asked, 
repeatedly, on what foundations 
we should build our lives. Should we
build on community values 
that have regard to "criteria
of productivity"? On personal values 
that leave desires to the
"impulses of instinct"? The twentieth 
century, he said, often sought to
build the City of Man 
without reference to Christ, and succeeded 
instead in building a city against man. 

We got the substance again in the homily 
from Sunday Mass, in which JP2 obliquely called the 
ecclesial sex-abuse scandals
to mind. (His words then: 
a "deep sense of sadness and shame.") 
But, he said, we must recall also 
the service done by others in the Church, 
and "be not afraid to follow Christ 
and the royal road of the Cross." 

On both days he dared us to be 
the salt of the earth, the light of the

Speaking Sunday morning, 
JP2 claimed to be old. However, 
to be young at heart is to hope. 
Hope (the kind worth having, 
the kind grounded in realities, 
in substance) was the core of his message. We 
lived WYD with a man whose pontificate 
proclaims its 1978 opening
message, "Be not afraid,"          
with undiminished conviction in 2002. 
The guy is young, and so the young at his big 
Toronto party heard in him the echo of themselves. 

This particular blueprint formalism is what I strictly call a "pointlist". I write pointlists not only when I have to decide what to say in a literary piece, but when I am taking notes on some complex scientific topic. My clearest examples of such notetaking come from the twenty minutes at the computer which I consider a necessary followup to our local one-hour Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics colloquium.

My toolkit of formalisms also contains what I call a "tasklist", for use in planning practical projects, such as intricate computer jobs. For what it's worth, here is a very short tasklist extract:

  !_do LaTeX run to confirm 
    that source code has no gross errors
    __we see glitch: 
      * unexpectedly thin 
        space with Kelvin in "Conclusions"
  (_we do NOT at this point bother 
    checking "figure" and "Figure", 
    even though the macro does some checks
    __justification: LATER in this 
      tasklist, we tackle
      the "igur" problem systematically, 
      making sure we say "Fig." and "Figs.") 
  !_make the substitutions 
    (_these are essentially 
      what is documented by xxxxxxxxxxx
      as 8Premk_E line 510)
    * Eq. -> eq.
    * Eqs. -> eqs.
    * Equation -> eq. 
    * Equations -> eqs. 
      __no occurrences found

The full tasklist for this particular job runs to 679 lines, before the addition of Web-friendly linebreaks. I was working on an editorial assignment, namely language control for a physics journal. The tasklist helped ensure that basically the right tasks got done, in basically the right order, and that the various inevitable glitches got logged.

Finally, I have what I call a "querylist", to ensure that I ask basically the right questions in basically the right order when interviewing. If I were an investigative journalist, rather than an astronomer-editor-writer, I'd probably use querylists every month.

It's a simple toolkit, organized on grammatical lines: pointlists for assertions; tasklists for imperatives; querylists for questions. And it is only the pointlist formalism that you need to adopt, or somehow to adapt, in planning your essay.

It is fine to alter the details of my formalism, to fit your own particular working style. For example, you might well prefer "--", or indeed "----", to "__". You might stick with my device of "__", but prefer to replace those rather hard-to-count blank spaces with dots, using "..__" to introduce a qualification of a point, and "....__" to introduce a qualification of a qualification. You might find "(_", ")" an unnecessarily fancy variation on the familiar "(", ")". You might use numbers more heavily than I tend to.

So important is the high-anxiety blueprinting stage that you will want to spread it over more than one work session wherever deadlines allow it. If time permits, it is good to plan, have lunch, plan again, have dinner, and the following morning review and revise the plan. Don't stop revising until you are sure the plan is solid enough to let you compose from it without gross deviations. (But, you will ask, can't the plan turn out to need revising in the very heat of composition? I answer that on my way of working, there isn't really such a thing as the heat of composition. We are heated when we plan, but cool when we compose. If, in the act of composing, we find ourselves returning to the act of planning, our initial planning session must have been hasty.)

To make sure that you can revise and adjust the plan until it works, acquire appropriate tools. Writers who work with computers will find a simple text editor, such as programmers use, more effective than a word processor, as used by secretaries. If, however, you must work with conventional office software, such as Microsoft Word, you may find it helpful to select a monospaced font, such as Courier, in a point size large enough to limit you to the programmer's traditional 80-character line.

Although I have hardly ever tried writing a logic blueprint without a computer, I suspect good results can be had from an intelligent choice of writing tools: quality mechanical pencil, perhaps, rather than pen or wooden pencil; the graphite fairly soft, perhaps in grade B rather than HB; the paper of decent quality, say unlined white bond with a lined sheet to go underneath as a guide for the neat formatting of your lines; a clean eraser or two perpetually handy, and in actual use at least every ten minutes.

You'll now be wondering to what extent I have managed to practice as I have been preaching, composing even this present essay from a logic blueprint. Fairly well, I answer, with only comparatively minor deviations from plan. I worked on the plan for an hour before dinner, on my first day, and for an hour or two after dinner. I finished the first draft toward the end of the evening.

You've finished reading the essay. Here's its plan, without cosmetic retouching except for the correcting of some "(_" formatting and the adding of some Web-friendly line breaks:

1. [Intro]
__this essay is meant in the first place 
  for an audience of amateur 
  nonfiction writers
    * the senior citizen 
      writing some 
      philosophical-theological essays 
      for his Web site
    * the high-school or university student 
      writing a term paper) 
  __but more advanced readers 
    may also find it useful 
      * English teachers 
      * professional nonfiction writers) 
__how this essay is organized: 
  * first, I sum up some conventional 
    wisdom on writing, 
    saying where you can learn more
  * second, I give my own ideas 
    on one aspect of the writing process, 
    the unfairly neglected topic of planning 
    (_of organization, 
      of getting the structure right) 
    (_this is material whihc you will 
      NOT really find discussed
      adequately elsewhere, as far as I know) 

2. [A Reminder of Standard Advice]

*1_first piece of advice that everybody gives, 
   but which I may as well repeat here, 
   is that you have to read
   __avoid television entirely  
   __avoid trash reading
     __so newspapers and 
       Internet have to be used with caution
   __make time for reading
     __one excellent idea is to devote 
       Sunday to concentrated reading
   __select your places for serious reading
     as carefully as you would 
     select your places for serious dining
     __example: the armchairs 
       by the gas fires in Trinity Coll Libr
*2_study at least some books about writing
   __hardly anyone will 
     neglect to mention Strunk and White
     __simple words, omission of needless words
   __also very good: xxx _xxx Clarity and Grace_
*3_get appropriate milieu and tools for writing 
   __writing milieu even 
     more important than reading milieu 
   __was delighted a few weeks ago 
     to see poet settling into a Chapters cafe
     with her laptop
   __for tools, remember that computer 
     is more than a glorified typewriter
     __I myself use a text editor, 
       rather than the distracting word processor 
       (_but I realize this is a minority preference, 
         as is my preference for 
         Linux over Microsoft or Mac) 
     __I myself find it handy to use the computer
       for filings notes and facts
       __I use the Library of Congress system, 
         benefitig also from the power 
         of a special Linux-implemented
         shortcut called the "bash alias" 
         and implemented in the
         ".bahsrc" file
         __to cut a long story very short: 
           plain fa
           plain res
           __all implemented without speical databases
*4_revise ruthelessly
   __the version of _Walden_ 
     which Henry David 
     Thoreau submitted to the printer
     was his eighth 
     (_Philip van Doren 
       Stern, ed.,  _The Annotated "Walden"; 
       New York, Bramhall House, 1970, p. 32) 
   __need to be prepared to recycle quite savagely, 
     tearing a piece apart some months after writing it, 
     repackaging it in a quite different form
*5_keep the seriousness 
   of the writer's mission before you at all times
   __useful to recall Thoreau's 
     discussion of books and readers: 
     "How many a man as dated a new era in his life
     from the reading of a book"
   __useful to scan 
     the writing-and-publishing shelves
     in the big bookstores, 
     for ideas on writing as a vocation
     __for instance, _Chicken 
       Soup for the Writer's Soul_ 
       __starts with an account 
         of a little boy from a troubled home, 

3. [My Own Nonstandard Advice] 

__we cannot overemphasize 
  the importance of good structure, 
  and yet this side of writing 
  seems to be downplayed
  in the advice people give to writers
__publishing industry distinguishes copyedit from 
  structural edit, 
  and rightly considers the latter kind of surgery
  worthy of higher pay
__things can go astonishingly wrong with structure: 
  * my colleague, faced with a couple of hundred pages
    of pastoral theology, 
    with no chapter divisions at all
  * my own project: 
    256 pages, and yet chap 1 pp. 1 - 161, 
    followed by three shorter chaps
__examples of less 
  spectacular sins against structure:
  * using a notion 
    40 pages before explaining it 
    ("the seven sorrows of humanity" - 
    here I modify
    slightly a problem 
    I encountered this past working week) 
  * explaining with one 
    example where three are needed
  * making the logically 
    subordinate points as prominent
    as the logically coordinate ones
  * failing to supply section headings
  * making the same 
    point in two different places
__above all, writing without a clear goal: 
  __my author on political theory 
    a couple of years ago 
    discussed Locke and contemporary 
    theorists, but gave the reader 
    no account of what his own 
    purpose was 
    (_to defend Locke? to oppose Locke? 
      to summarize Locke in neutral
__we must, then, have some way of achieving 
  logical structure in our work   
__I think I have a method that works               
  __since my method is not widely discussed, 
    even though many successful 
    writers must be practicing
    something like it, 
    I want to explain it at considerable length, 
    with an actual case study
 __the essence of my method is this: 
   invest about as much time in writing 
   the logic blueprint 
   as you do in writing the first draft
   [_approx wording]   
   __here "logic blueprint" is my own term
   __I suspect, from the materials 
     I read as a professional editor,
     that many people try to keep the plan 
     for their essay in their heads, 
     instead of writing it out
   __I also suspect that some 
     people do write a plan out, 
     but write it in an ineffective form, 
     neglecting to produce a true logic blueprint
__a logic blueprint uses formatting, 
  including levels of indention, 
  to shows what points are coordinate, 
  what points subordinate
__a very crude, fanciful example: 
  __this essay is an open letter of warning 
    to our leaders:
    it is NOT clear when to foo the bar  
    (_even though strident columnists like 
      * Margaret Wente  
        __she writes for the _Globe_
      * Mark Steyn
        __he writes for the _Post_
      would have us believe the issue is clear) 
  __admittedly, everyone agrees that fooing the bar 
    is okay when the froozle is a dongle
  __what is controversial is what to do 
    when the froozle is a non-dongle
    __Lester Pearson thought we should 
      foo the bar anyway
      (_we see this from this Nobel 
        Peace Prize acceptance speech, 
        given in Oslo 
        [_MEMO: check this] 
        in 19xx) 
    __Martin Luther King Jr, echoing Gandhi,       
      said on many occasions     
      that we should only foo the bar
      if we can do so without violence
    __the United Nations has in recent years
      been unable to make up its mind 
      __Kofi Annan
        (_commenting on the Rwanda massacre)
        said we should always foo the bar
      __Dr Hans Blix
        (_a few weeks before 
          diplomacy collapsed in Iran)
        said we should avoid fooing the goozliest bars 
        until we get a ruling 
        from the International Criminal Court
        __awkwardly, the USA produces 
          85% of the world's froozles
          and yet is not a member of 
          the International Criminal Court
            statistics from UNESCO, 1999
            __alas, no more recent 
              statistics have been published)
  __can some of our current troubles be due    
    to politicans assuming
    that every question has a clearcut answer?
    [_MEMO: if time permits, 
      find some pithy decorative 
      quotation from Wittgenstein 
      on the nonexistence of clearcut answers, 
      to give this concluding point 
      a little more weight
      __can start by looking up 
        Wittenstein on "forms of life" 
        __try not Internet search engines, 
          but back-of-book index 
          to _Philospohical Investigations_
          (_if indeed the book has 
            an index at the back) 
        __Trinity College Library 
          probably suffices for investigating
          __no need to start an 
            elaborate search in Robarts Library] 
__note here that the more 
  logically subordinate a point is, 
  the more heavily it is indented
__note also the use of 
  parentheses to isolate really parenthetical
  (_later, in the act of writing, 
    we have to decide how exactly
    to handle such strongly parenthetical material
    __we could turn it into footnotes
    __we could put it into parentheses
    __we could simply say something like "incidentally") 
__note also the use of bulleted lists
__note the use of brackets, 
  as distinct frm parentheses, 
  with MEMO, to mark off a memo
__now for a real-life example, 
  which I take straight
  from my project archives, without any gussying up
__first, the outline
  [_INSERT the papal-visit outline here] 
__then the piece, as filed under 
  tight time constraints
  to _Truro Daily News_
  [_INSERT the piece here]
__this is just one suggestion 
  for formatting a logical blueprint
  __it is, admittedly, a suggestion 
    that I worked out over the
    last 5 years or so, and 
    seems to be standing up to the test of time
  __if you don't like this format, 
    devise one of your own
    __my own format is what I 
      strictly call a "pointlist" 
      __I also have tasklists, 
        to help in planning practical projects,
        such as intricate computer jobs, 
        and interviews
      __I've even made very 
        occasional use of "querylists", 
        to help in planning interviews
      __think of pointlists, 
        tasklists, and querylists
        as ways of writing out 
        assertions, commands, and questions
        in a logically structured style
__to repeat: the trick in writing 
  nonfiction is to create
  a meticulous blueprint first, 
  using at least SOMETHING
  like my own pointlist formalism
__if your deadline allows it, 
  spread the planning out 
  over more than one work session
__use tools that will let you 
  revise and fine-tune the plan
  __if computer, simple text editor, 
    such as programmers use, 
    is better than word processing software, 
    such as secretaries use
  __if traditional paper, 
    then consider using good-quality
    mechanical pencil 
    with (soft) B lead, and good eraser
__you'll now be wondering 
  how this present essay got planned
  _so here's the plan:
   [_INSERT plan here]