On writing well

Author: William Zinsser
Synopsis:

A weakness of mine, this book provides solid principles and methods to improve your writing style.  It focusses on non-fiction writing rather than writing a prize winning novel.  Parts 3 and 4 can be skimmed over, the value is in I and II.
Standout quotation: “I always thought there was at least one person in the stands who had never seen me play, and I didn’t want to let him down”, Joe DiMaggio on how he managed to play so well consistently

Intro
+ Tech advance => increase in writing but increase in unstructured writing

Part I – Principles
1. The transaction
– Good writing has an aliveness that keeps the reader
– Ultimately the product any writer has to sell is not the subject being written but who the writer is
2. Simplicity – strip sentences to cleanest components
– What are you trying to say?
– Word usage key: sanguine – cheerful, optimistic, sanguinary – involving much blood
– Each rewrite => stronger, tighter and more precise
3. Clutter
– If it doesn’t serve a purpose, cut
     – Are you experiencing any pain => does it hurt
     – Assistance = help
     – Numerous = many
     – Initial = first
     – Implement = do
     – It is interesting to not = X
     – Due to the fact that = because
     – For the purpose of = for
– Tip: bracket useless work
4. Style
– Strip to essentials before build up
– Think ‘I’ when you write => warming of your style
– Have a commitment – go out on a limb
5. Audience
– Write for yourself
6. Words
– Journalese: adjectives as nouns (notables) / nouns as verbs (to host) / nouns padded to form verbs (beef up & chopped)
– Don’t use cliches: be original
– Sounds of words is important – alliteration
7. Usage

Part II – Methods
8. Unity – make mood and style consistent
a. Of pronoun – 1st person vs. 3rd person
b. Tense – past, present
c. Attitude – involved, detached, ironic, amused
– Every piece of non-fiction should leave the reader with one provocative thought he or she didn’t have before
9. The lead and ending
– 1st sentence = most important => lead paragrah
     – varies with audience
– last sentence of each paragraph is key
     – encourage curiosity 
– ending: end quickly and interestingly: quotation, echo of beginning (Woody Allen’s mum = Groucho Marx)
10. Bits and pieces (see p86)
– use active verbs: Joe saw him not he was seen by Joe
– adverbs often unnecessary: can weaken strong verbs
– adjectives can be unnecessary: lacy spiderwebs, yellow daffodils
– little qualifers: quite, very, rather, too

Part III: Forms
11. Non-fiction as literature
12. Writing about people (interviews)
– Quotations key
– Immediately lead with them, don’t have “MF Smith said”
– Some cleaning/spicing is necessary
13. Writing about places (travel)
– Choose words meticulously to avoid cliches – aim = fresh
– Find significant details
14. Writing about yourself (memoirs)
– Thoreau’s ‘Walden’
15. Science and technology
– However complex write clearly and make interesting via relevance
16. Business writing
– Cut jargon
17. Sports
18. Critic
– Quotations help
– Use plan English
– don’t sit on the fence
19. Humour
– hair curlers: sermons and the death of humour
     -> ‘A look at organised crime’, Woody Allen
– how much exaggeration allowable = fine balance 

Part IV: Attributes
20. The sound of your voice
– don’t alter your voice to fit the subjects
– avoid cliches
– care w/ breeziness   
21. Enjoyment, fear and confidence
– enjoyment must shine through
22. The tyranny of the final product
 disappearance of small towns: one two too large, must focus on one store or family
23. A writers’ decisions
– each sentence one thought
– find proper names or metaphors to bring dull but necessary facts to life
24. Write as well as you can
– Quality
– Write what you want and defend it against changes
– Notes on  how to handle editors given

Joe DiMaggio on how he managed to play so well consistently, “I always thought there was at least one person in the stands who had never seen me play, and I didn’t want to let him down

Join the Conversation

2 Comments

  1. Love your blog, in fact arrived by checking yahoo and google for a comparable issue to this post. Which means this might be a late post nevertheless keep up the great work.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *