On Writing Well : William Zinsser

on writing well

Date Read – 1/11/2020

Rating 10/10

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On Writing Well : William Zinsser

High Level Overview

A brilliant book on the art of writing non-fiction. Short, sharp and straight to the point. I was able to apply the techniques in the book immediately to my own writing. It also freed me up to become less rigid, to begin developing my own writing style with my own personality.


Writing is not a simple process. It often takes numerous attempts at writing a single sentence to make it feel like your own.

Clarity, simplicity, brevity (concise and exact), make it Human.

Simplicity is a virtue in writing. A simple style is a product of an intelligent mind.

Get rid of most adverbs, most adjectives, qualifiers (hedges authority). Enjoy cutting and strip it down.

One idea per sentence. People can only hold 1 idea at a time.

Be yourself. Write as you speak. You are your material.

You should only try to please yourself. Don’t try and guess what others will like. It will sound artificial.

Rewriting is where the pleasure of writing resides.

Ask often: what am I trying to say? Then ask: have I said it?

Make Human contact with the words you use – relatable. Avoid vague concepts. Specific and concrete.

Verbs – Fall in love with active verbs (few passive verbs)(active voice/passive voice).

Write in first person

Short, bold nouns. dog, milk, chair, grass etc go to the deepest recesses of the readers psyche.

Longer, latin nouns (often end in ion), numerous syllables. Often concept nouns and can go together.

Make the reader smile and you’ve got him for at least one more paragraph.

Get rid of “a bit,” “a little,” “sort of,” “kind of,” “rather,” “quite,” “very,” “too,” “pretty much.” – Reader isn’t dumb.

Writing is learned by imitation. Read other peoples work and imitate.

Read your work aloud and you’ll hear things you don’t see on paper/screen

Make the sentences dance and sing for the readers.

Readers should always think you know more than what you write about

Don’t explain what you have already allowed the reader to know. Let the reader determine it for themself. (the same as not explaining a joke)

Tell a story to make a point

Delivering serious information seriously puts people off