Wednesday, June 10, 2009

On Writing Well (2).

On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction (2). 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 that “ ‘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 (continued):

“…every profession has its growing arsenal of jargon to fire at the layman and hurl him back from its walls.” p. 17. ……….

“Few people realize how badly they write.” p. 19. ……….

“A writer is obviously at his most natural and relaxed when he writes in the first person. I almost always urge people to write in the first person—to use “I” and “me” and “we” and “us.” p. 22. “If you aren’t allowed to use “I,” at least write the first draft in the first person and then take out the “I.” p. 24.

“All writing is ultimately a question of solving a problem…where to obtain facts…how to organize the material…a problem of approach or attitude, tone or style.” p. 53. ……….

“Unity is the anchor of good writing.” p. 54. ……….

“What one point do I really want to make?” p. 56.

“The most important sentence in any article is the first one; if it doesn’t induce the reader to proceed to the second sentence, your article is dead….” p. 59. ………..

“In fact, you should give as much thought to choosing your last sentence as you did to your first.” p. 70. ……….

“But what often works best [in the ending] is a quotation.” p. 73.

“Use active verbs unless there is no comfortable way to get around using a passive verb.” p. 101. ……….

“Short paragraphs put air around what you write and make it look inviting, whereas one long chunk of type can discourage the reader from even starting to read.” p. 111. ……….

“Dictated sentence [on a Dictaphone, for example] tend to be pompous, sloppy and redundant.” p. 113.

Comment: For me, reading this book is a reminder of how to write clearly, succinctly and interestingly. I re-read parts of it before I begin to write a new article for publication. RayS.

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