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On Writing Well

On Writing Well

by William Knowlton Zinsser

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.”

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  • 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 multip...

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William Zinsser

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

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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 ...

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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 ser...

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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.”

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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 complica...

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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.”

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  • 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 st...

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  • 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...

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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...

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  • 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 fi...

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"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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  • 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.

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