On Writing Well by William Zinsser

On Writing WellI urge you to read this book, no to buy it and read it once a year. Here’s the briefest of summaries of just the first part of the book.

Simplicity – Simplify, simplify. What am I trying to say?  Clear thinking leads to clear writing.  What am I trying to say?

Clutter – it’s like weeds – we are always a little bit behind them.  A personal friend

cut the fat

cut the fat

of mine – at this point in time or now – collateral damage – tall skyscraper /// Ask yourself what work each word is doing

StyleWhen you can, use “I” – don’t be afraid, don’t hedge.  “And yet, on balance, affirmative action had, I think, been a qualified success.” Elliot Richardson. 13 word sentence with five hedging words. People want to hear your opinion.  Don’t be afraid. When you can, use “I”

The Audience – Zinsser says “Please yourself.” Others say put one person’s picture near your computer. Write for that person. Don’t write for the masses or for women or for truckdrivers who drive the New York-Chicago run. Write for an audience of one – yourself.

Words – use a dictionary, use a thesaurus. Words are the only tools we have. Learn to use them with originality and care.

Unity of theme, of pronoun, of tense, of mood, of attitude, of point of view. Before you start, answer all these questions.

Beginning and End—The beginning — capture the reader, also does some real work// or maybe tell a story. For the end, consider a quotation, or go full circle or come up with a surprise

Verbs—your most important tool. Active verbs, not passive. Use colourful verbs – dazzle, beguile, pamper

Adverbs—most are unnecessary.

Adjectives – most are unnecessary. Lacy spider webs, precipitous cliffs, stately elms, frisky kittens

Little Qualifiers. Sort of, pretty much, a little, very, quite,

William Zinsser

William Zinsser


5 responses to “On Writing Well by William Zinsser

  1. I second your endorsement. I first read Zinsser several years ago when preparing to teach a Creative Nonfiction writing class and could not believe I hadn’t read it earlier. It’s just a fantastic book. Can you tell I like it? 🙂

  2. Pingback: Cryptoquote Spoiler – 04/24/14 | Unclerave's Wordy Weblog·

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