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On Writing Well

For this particular post, I am not creating original content because I came across some notes I had from a book that contains some excellent writing advice. This from a man who knows what he’s talking about, William Zinsser. These notes are from his book, On Writing Well, a great read for any writer, in my opinion. Simple but especially useful, practical writing advice. Below are highlights I discovered in this book. Some of this we have heard before but I am a believer that it never hurts to hear good advice repeatedly. Read on...

- Four basic rules for non-fiction creative writing:

1. Simplicity

2. Clarity

3. Brevity

4. Humanity

- A simple style of writing is actually the result of very hard work.

o Don’t clutter sentences with excess words; they’re like weeds in a garden.

- Most writing can be cut by 50%

o Most adverbs are unnecessary – the verbs should be meaningful and explicit. Adjectives are just decoration. Use sparingly.

- Every component in a sentence should do useful work.

o Sentences should be perfectly clear without excessive words. Cut to the bones.

o Short sentences keep a reader’s interest rather than long involved ones. The reader processes one thought or idea at a time. A sentence can hold too much.

- Humanity is crucial. Be natural – be yourself.

o Don’t use words you wouldn’t use in conversation.

- Don’t use vague generalizations to lead into the subject.

o Readers like to identify with the writer.

- Express an interest in the subject – show your enthusiasm.

o Write as well as you would talk, as well as you can in good English.

- Writing is imitation – write with the style of someone you admire.

o Listen to what you write – the alliteration, rhythm, cadence – How does it sound?

- Try not to write like everyone else.

o Avoid cliches – replace with something fresh – surprise.

o Avoid ambiguity – clear changes of direction are important. The writer needs to provide a transition.

- Don’t confuse or delay the reader or you’ll lose him.

o Aspire to be careful – write then read aloud and listen. If it doesn’t please you, do it again.

- Make music with sentences.

- When giving information, truth is interesting.

o Trust your material to explain the point. Don’t condescend to the reader (don’t explain what you wrote), let the writing explain itself.

o Be sincere. Your best credential is self-integrity.

- In your narrative, tell your story. Make serious points through the story, but not too seriously.

o Don’t be a pompous bore – keep it human.

- When interviewing someone, write by quoting what the person is thinking, feeling, remembering, and how they talk.

o Learn to interview & make the arrangement of what they say later. Take time to establish trust.

- Be clear, simple, brief but be true to yourself.

I hope you find this information as useful as I have with my writing. With regards to this book by Zinsser, I do recommend reading it if you haven’t as there is more to it than just my notes above.

Happy reading, happy writing!


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