If you can’t guess what the book On Writing Well is about, I’m not giving you any clues. But I will tell you this: If you write, or plan to write, this book is a classic. One worth reading and worth keeping.
The author, William Zinsser, was a writer, columnist, editor, critic and teacher. He was also was an advocate of clear, clutter-free writing. And that’s the kind I think everyone should be striving to write.
Zinsser’s “informal guide” helps you see the crap and urges you to cut it out of your work. That way, you can say what you have to say, we can read what you have to say and everyone can proceed to the next thing on our ever-growing to-do lists.
If you haven’t read On Writing Well yet, or if it’s been a while and you’re down for a refresher, I’ve created three slideshows and this is the first, which offers tips for getting your mind right and getting started.
“…words are the only tools you will be given.”
“You learn to write by writing.”
“Clear thinking becomes clear writing: one can’t exist without the other. It is impossible for a muddy thinker to write good English.”
“In fact, you will never make your mark as a writer unless you develop a respect for words and a curiosity about their shades of meaning that is almost obsessive.”
“The race in writing is not to the swift but to the original.”
“…readers read with their eyes. But actually they hear what they are reading—in their inner ear—far more than you realize… Rhythm and alliteration are vital to every sentence.”
“…every successful piece of non-fiction should leave the reader with one provocative thought that he didn’t have before. Not two thoughts, or five—just one.”
“Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time.”
“If a phrase comes to you easily, look at it with deep suspicion.”
“Style is organic to the person doing the writing, as much a part of him as his hair, or, if he is bald, his lack of it. Trying to add style is like adding a toupee.