Tuesday, June 9, 2009

On Writing Well.... (1) William Zinsser.

On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction (1). William Zinsser. Second Edition. New York: Harper & Row Publishers. 1980.

Why read it? Thoughts on how to write clear nonfiction. The author defines good writing as having an “aliveness that keeps the reader reading from one paragraph to the next.” And he says “ 'clutter' is the disease of American writing, a society strangling on unnecessary words, circular constructions … and meaningless jargon.” I don’t care how good a writer you think you are, you will learn something from this book.

Sample Quotes and Ideas:

“Our national tendency is to inflate and thereby sound important.” p. 7. ……….

“…every long word that could be a short word, every adverb which carries the same meaning that is already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what….” p. 7. ……….

“The reader is a person with an attention span of about twenty seconds…assailed on every side by forces competing for his time by newspapers and magazines, by television and radio and stereo, by his wife and children and pets, by his house and yard and all the gadgets that he has bought to keep them spruce, and by that most potent of competitors sleep.” p. 9.

“A clear sentence is no accident.” p. 13. ……….

“Consider all the prepositions that are routinely draped onto verbs that don’t need any help: head up; free up; face up to; we no longer head committees, we head them up; we don’t face problems any more; we face up to them when we can free up a few minutes.” p. 14. ……….

“ ‘Clutter’ is the ponderous euphemism that turns a slum into a depressed socioeconomic area, a salesman into a marketing representative, a dumb kid into an underachiever and garbage collector into waste disposal personal.” p. 16.

“Clutter from inter-office memos: ‘The trend to mosaic communication is reducing the meaningfulness of concern about whether or not demographic segments differ in their tolerance of periodicity.’ ”p. 16. ……….

“Clutter from the computer world: ‘We are offering functional digital programming options that have built-in parallel reciprocal capabilities with compatible third-generation contingencies and hardware.’ “ p. 16. ……….

“Clutter from the Pentagon: 'Invasion' = a reinforced protective reaction strike; need for credible second-strike capability and counterforce deterrence.” p. 16.

To be continued.

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