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On Writing Well

On Writing Well

by William Knowlton Zinsser

16

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Rewriting is the essence of writing

Rewriting is the essence of writing

Professional writers rewrite their sentences over and over and then rewrite what they have rewritten.

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William Zinsser

"But the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components.”

William Zinsser

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A reader's attention span

  • A reader's attention span is about 30 seconds. And this is usually a person assailed by many forces competing for attention.
  • In the past, those forces were relatively few: newspapers, magazines, radio, spouse, children, pets.
  • Today they also include multiple electronic devices for receiving entertainment and information, as well as a fitness program, a pool, and that most powerful competitor, sleep.

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William Zinsser

“Clear thinking becomes clear writing; one can’t exist without the other.”

William Zinsser

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Writing well: getting to the point

Writers must constantly ask: "What am I trying to say?" Most of the time, they don’t know. Then they must look at what they have written and ask: "Have I said it?"

If something isn’t important enough for your writing, then remove it. In fact, most first drafts can be cut in half and still get the point across without losing anything important.

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Eliminate words with no purpose

Writing improves in direct ratio to the number of things we can keep out of it that shouldn’t be there.

Consider all the prepositions that are draped onto verbs that don’t need any help. Examine every word you put on paper. You’ll find a surprising number that doesn’t serve any purpose.

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William Zinsser

“Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.”

William Zinsser

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The principle of simplicity

There are many methods for writing nonfiction, but the most effective method is to find what works for you. Whatever helps you is the “right” way.

However, there are key principles to good writing, and one of them is simplicity. Writers often use complicated or additional words to sound impressive, but good writing should be simple with clean language.

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Don’t inflate what needs no inflating

Clutter doesn’t make your writing stylish; in fact, trying too hard makes your writing seem fake.

Just write naturally and clearly; don’t try too hard with fancy words or complicated sentences that are just confusing.

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William Zinsser

“You learn to write by writing. It’s a truism, but what makes it a truism is that it’s true. The only way to learn to write is to force yourself to produce a certain number of words on a regular basis.”

William Zinsser

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The most important sentence in any writing: the first one

  • If it doesn’t induce the reader to proceed to the second sentence, your work is dead. Of such a progression of sentences, each tugging the reader forward until he is hooked, a writer constructs that fateful unit, the “lead.”
  • Do not count on the reader to stick around. Readers want to know very soon what’s in it for them.

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Writing well: the perfect ending

  • Give as much thought to choosing your last sentence as you did to your first.
  • Bring the story full circle: strike an echo of a note that was sounded at the beginning.
  • The perfect ending should take your readers slightly by surprise and yet seem exactly right.
  • Don’t sell past the close. When you’re ready to stop, stop.

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Write for yourself

You can’t predict what people will want to read. So don't worry about pleasing others.

Don’t try to visualize your audience; every reader is a different person. Don’t try to guess what sort of thing editors want to publish or what you think the country is in a mood to read. Editors and readers don’t know what they want to read until they read it. Besides, they’re always looking for something new.

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Write in the first person

  • Writers at their most natural when they write in the first person.
  • Better to have an opinion and say 'I', 'we', 'us', 'me' than to take everything into a passive voice.
  • If you aren’t allowed to use “I,” at least think “I” while you write, or write the first draft in the first person and then take the “I”s out.

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Writing is learned by imitation

"The race in writing is not to the swift but to the original."

Make a habit of reading what is being written today and what was written by earlier masters.

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Writing well: choosing the right words

  • Avoid at all costs the cliches of the thousands of writers who have gone before you.
  • When you’re choosing words and stringing them together, be aware of how they sound.
  • Use words you enjoy and that are vivid.
  • Know the subtle differences between synonyms and which one best expresses what you want to say.
  • Use the words that have precise meanings rather than those that are vague.

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SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

When Studies Are Untrustworthy

When Studies Are Untrustworthy

Many layers of uncertainty along with thinking errors of scientists (blind spots) make the research or evidence untrustworthy about 42 percent of the time, according to a study.

“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

Advice For Reading Scientific Studies

When we read scientific studies, it helps to keep in mind the following:

  1. Scientists are prone to error just like everyone else.
  2. Single source claims are dubious.
  3. There is a lot we don’t know.
  4. We should not be biased towards a particular outcome.
  5. Independent tests of the findings can be done if possible.
  6. Proof of something does not mean it is true, and a lack of proof does not mean it is false.

3 more ideas

Sports Fans

Sports Fans

Sports is a big deal across the world, with die-hard fans who are extremely emotional towards their home teams. It is hard to pinpoint the motivations of a sports fan, and why a win or a loss of a ...

Why We Love Sports

Sports psychologists have a list of why people love sports:

  • Sports carry self-esteem benefits.
  • Commercial reasons (money bets etc.).
  • Peer pressure of being part of their group.
  • Sports are exciting.
  • Sports is an aesthetically pleasing activity.
  • A venue for emotional expression.
  • Sports is an escape from real-world problems.
  • Sports provide a sense of connectedness and belonging.

Explaining Sports Appeal

  • Talent-Luck Theory: Sports appeals to a lot of people due to its ability to balance skill with randomness.
  • Mirror Neurons: Many fans are able to feel what the player is feeling, and experience the excitement first-hand in his mind, with no barrier between the self and the outside world.

Conducting Great Interviews

  1. Do not immediately jump to questions focusing on the topic at hand.
  2. Coax, don't hammer. There will be times that the interviewee will have a hard time answering some ques...