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[Book Review] On Writing Well by William Zinsser

— Created: Xiaoke, 2018/06/30 00:00 CST
— Last modified: Xiaoke, 2018/06/30 00:00 CST

I have written numerous articles, and I believe most of us do. My writing is usually for a certain purpose, an essay, a thesis, a proposal, a piece of diary, or an email. Sometimes, I have self-indulgence in what I write, look at it over and over again thinking there is not a single word to improve. Sometimes, it is the opposite. Immediately after finishing, I swear I’ll never look at it again. With tough truth about writing, this book “On writing well” helps to break the illusion, guide us through the arduous rewriting, and achieve readable articles.

The subtitle of the book, “the classic guide to writing nonfiction”, indicates that topics in this book aim for our daily use, e.g. writing people, places, business documents, etc. The book is divided into 4 parts. Part I and II give some general principles, such as the words and sentences, layout and styles. Part III exemplifies those principles in detail for each type of nonfiction writing, and Part IV goes further covering the writers’ attitude.

Writing is never an easy task. Regular and repeated practice is the basis and definitely comes first. Afterwards, as a craft that can be learned, writing has its own rules that apply to most of us. For example, use simple and precise words to convey clear thinking. Then pay attention to the sound and rhythm so that the flow of words echoes with the reader’s subconscious. Furthermore, carefully lay out the sentences and paragraphs so that the whole article is coherent and continuous, expressing an integrate idea. Writing is like composing a sonata. With the first sentence, you know the theme. The writer then takes the reader through the details and elaboration, but never too far away. At the end they both return to where they start. In this journey, the writer as a human being is visible behind the words, his or her enjoyment and energy touches the reader.

But good writing does not become good overnight, with all these principles at hand, painstaking practice and rewriting is the key. So, find the book and enjoy writing.

Excerptions from the book are as follows.

“With each rewrite I try to make what I have written tighter, stronger and more precise, eliminating every element that’s not doing useful work.”

“One is craft, the other is attitude. The first is a question of mastering a precise skill. The second is a question of how you use that skill to express your personality.”

“The only way to learn to write is to force yourself to produce a certain number of words on a regular basis.”

“Read your article aloud from beginning to end, always remembering where you left the reader in the previous sentence.”

“By interviewing local men and women, I tapped into one of the richest veins waiting for any writer to …”

“Writing is such lonely work that I try to keep myself cheered up.”