The art of nonfiction: a guide for writers and readers - By Ayn Rand & Robert Mayhew Page 0,1

purely mental job—there is nothing in reality yet except a blank sheet of paper. This is why so many people fail at it. It is harder to focus on the reality of what you have to produce when there is nothing before you but a blank page.... In practice, you must be more reality-oriented than a scientist, who has the help of the physical problem and the physical objects he is working with.”

This is not just the de-mysticizing, but the de-agonizing of writing. Ayn Rand’s methodology will not make writing problem-free, but something much better: problem-solvable. The conviction that one’s work can be guided by rational principles rescues writers from a sense of helplessness. It saves them from the state of pre-science savages, who felt they were at the mercy of incomprehensible forces. Such a feeling is paralyzing to a writer, who has to know that, in principle, he is in control of his work—that his success depends, not on some inscrutable emanations from his gut, but on identifiable ideas from his brain.

Those who are serious about writing should find this approach enormously rewarding. I know that after reading an early transcript of this material years ago, I found the process of writing much easier and more enjoyable. The approach presented in this book makes writing a definable—and thus readily doable—activity, rather than a debilitating battle. I use much of this material in a writing class I teach at the Objectivist Graduate Center of the Ayn Rand Institute. And the response I typically get from students is something along the lines of: “So there is a definite method by which to write—and it works!”

The transcript I originally saw was merely a verbatim account of Ayn Rand’s extemporaneous remarks. In this book, by contrast, her presentation has been impressively reorganized, with material taken painstakingly from one comer of the transcript and moved to another, where it logically belongs. Robert Mayhew deserves abundant praise for his editing, which has resulted in a much more integrated and readable product.

Those who experience the process of writing as overwhelming and traumatic will, I expect, find this book liberating. During the Renaissance, scientists—armed with the revived Aristotelian confidence in the power of reason—came to realize that the world was theirs to conquer. Writers, armed with Ayn Rand’s de-mysticizing approach to writing, can be similarly unleashed, with the world of words theirs to master.

—Peter Schwartz

Danbury, Connecticut

July 1999


In 1969, Ayn Rand gave a course on nonfiction writing to well over a dozen friends and associates. At the time, she was editor of The Objectivist magazine (Objectivism is the philosophy she originated); she gave the course to help those who were, or planned to be, contributors.

She did not deliver prepared lectures. Instead, she spoke on a topic (some evenings for over three hours) guided solely by a brief outline. These “lectures” were interspersed with: general discussion; requests for clarification, with her replies; discussion of homework assignments; and question-and-answer periods.

The course was privately recorded. My task was to convert the recording into a book. Let me describe the kinds of editing I did.

Cutting. A great deal of material had to be cut, though I am confident that nothing of importance pertaining to nonfiction writing was omitted. (Prompted by student questions, Ayn Rand occasionally went off on fascinating tangents into philosophy, politics, and art. Much of what she said is of great interest, and such material will no doubt be published in some form eventually; but it does not belong in this book.) In regard to nonfiction writing, I assumed that every passage of hers was worthy of inclusion unless I could make a case for its omission. If, for example, while she was lecturing, a student interjected a question, and her brief reply added nothing to the discussion (because it was repetitive or dealt with a narrow problem of no general interest), I omitted it. Or if the students spent two hours discussing their outlines or writing samples with her, I did not include the entire discussion. However, I always tried to incorporate into the book any important insights or principles that she mentioned during these discussions.

Reorganizing. Ayn Rand did not present this course as a series of lectures corresponding exactly to the chapters of this book. How, then, was her course organized?

When it began, she did not have a complete picture of what material would be covered, or even how many times the class would meet. Nor did she have in mind an exact order of presentation. On