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On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction

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On Writing Well has been praised for its sound advice, its clarity and the warmth of its style. It is a book for everybody who wants to learn how to write or who needs to do some writing to get through the day, as almost everybody does in the age of e-mail and the Internet. Whether you want to write about people or places, science and technology, business, sports, the arts or about yourself in the increasingly popular memoir genre, On Writing Well offers you fundamental priciples as well as the insights of a distinguished writer and teacher. With more than a million copies sold, this volume has stood the test of time and remains a valuable resource for writers and would-be writers.

321 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1976

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About the author

William Zinsser

48 books383 followers
William Knowlton Zinsser is an American writer, editor, literary critic, and teacher. He began his career as a journalist for the New York Herald Tribune, where he worked as a feature writer, drama editor, film critic, and editorial writer. He has been a longtime contributor to leading magazines.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,173 reviews
Profile Image for Roy Lotz.
Author 1 book8,176 followers
October 17, 2015
It’s always intimidating setting out to write a review of a book on writing. One feels naked, exposed—now you have to prove that you’ve learned something. Lucky for me, I am a creature with little shame, so I’ll let my prose all hang out.

After reading Pragmatism by the American philosopher William James, I’ve realized that some American qualities cut deep. We are a people who love action and despise abstract argument. We like to see efficiency and real-world results. We set ourselves a goal and go straight for it. Perhaps this American temper is part of the “Protestant Ethic," made so famous by Max Weber. Whatever it is, it’s on full display here.

What Zinsser is doing in this book is applying a capitalist sensibility to prose. Keep it simple. Economize. Cut out the fat. Go straight for the point. Zinsser’s approach to writing is that of a factory owner seeking to improve his business model. This leads him to a straightforward adoption of the axioms of The Elements of Style. In fact, this book is hardly more than a commentary, expansion, and application of Strunk and White’s ideas.

I grow tired of this. The more I read, the more I realize that what constitutes good style cannot be put into a formula. It varies from person to person, from subject to subject, from country to country, and from age to age. Zinsser’s writing-style is nice enough. But I’m sure his conversational tone would sound coarse and inelegant to many readers. Where’s the poetry? Where’s the lofty argument and philosophical reflection? Of course, you can’t please everybody. What bothers me is that Zinsser doesn’t seem realize how provincial are his ideas.

What you will learn in this book is how to do a specific type of writing: journalistic nonfiction. It’s writing well-suited to its purpose—to provide entertainment and light education for casual readers. This is a great skill, and Zinsser has some great advice. If you have aspirations to work for a newspaper or a magazine—or even write a popular non-fiction book—I would highly recommend this book.

I have no problem with this kind of writing-style—my mother is a journalist. But it hardly runs the whole gamut of nonfiction. And for pretentious me, Zinsser comes across as a bit vulgar. His conception of language is narrow. He wishes only to hook the reader, crack a few jokes on the way, maybe include some light food for thought, and make a quick exit. It’s like an ad on TV. But often non-fiction writers have—dare I say it?—higher aspirations. And a quick-shooting, hard-hitting, punchy prose style just won’t do the trick.

I should temper my criticisms. I’ve read too much illegible academic scrawling to be insensitive to the value of concreteness and simplicity. As general rules, they’re safe to abide by. And if you are writing as a craft—a professional email for example—then you would do well to follow Zinsser’s advice.

Where this book falls short is Zinsser’s insensitivity to the artistic potential of the written word. He admits this himself
I have an unbroken record of missing the deeper meaning in any story, play or movie, and as for dance and mime, I have never had any idea of what is being conveyed.

I commend Zinsser for his honesty. But for several genres of writing, an overly-literal mindset is a death-sentence. And in any genre, a great metaphor is worth fifteen spiffy sentences and peppy paragraphs.

At its best, non-fiction writing is more than chuckles and trivia—it can be just as profound as the best novel or poem. (Read The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire if you don’t believe me.) Zinsser does have a chapter entitled “Nonfiction as Literature,” but it quickly becomes clear that he regards even Nabokov’s memoir as a kind of journalism.

So if you wish to read a snappy book on snappy writing, On Writing Well satisfies. But be warned: this is simply an elegant articulation of one philosophy of style. And there are as many different philosophies of style as there are great writers. And Zinsser is a good writer, not a great one.
Profile Image for Rowena.
500 reviews2,463 followers
July 14, 2017
Brilliant book!I definitely learned a lot of extremely useful advice from this book. I learned about the writing mistakes that I was making, and also how to enrich my own writing. Zinsser's tone and sense of humour made reading the book fun and interesting. This is the kind of book I would re-read every now and then for inspiration.
Profile Image for Francisco.
Author 22 books54.9k followers
October 18, 2015
How do you learn to write, really, other than by writing. But now and then, it's good to pause and think about the art of good writing, the craft. This famous little book can be the reflective pause that will help you be care-full, love-full, with your work. The book is not just more of the same old stuff you've always heard. The advice given by the author is creative and his examples of good writing are informative and insightful. And because good writing is always connected to the inner life and moral depth of the author, much of what he says applies to the ultimate source of the written word: the writer's attitude, her attention and integrity. Don't let the "nonfiction" in the title deter you from reading this if you write fiction. The chapter on "travel writing" is an on-the-button presentation on the creation of "place" which is essential in fiction. Read slowly, let the humor and common sense of the author seep into your writing blood so that it may flow out spontaneously in your words. But maybe the best gift this book will give you is the sense that you, the writer, are but a humble, ordinary worker using skill, intelligence and heart to create something beautiful and true.
Profile Image for Alissa.
26 reviews3 followers
September 8, 2010
Zinsser's first few chapters talk solely about eliminating clutter and simplifying your work... yet his book is more than 300 pages of repetitive, hypocritical and lengthy sentences. This book could have been easily shortened to 50-100 pages. I was not a fan of his many examples (quite frankly, I skipped over most of them). Most of all, I wish Zinsser followed his own advice - simplify, and trust your material (don't feel the need to explain almost every single principle; we get it). The book, however, offered sound advice which I was lucky to dig out from the rest of the nonsense:

"Be yourself."
"Forget the competition and go at your own pace."
"Your only contest is with yourself."
"Never let anything go out into the world that you don’t understand."
"Never forget where you left your reader in the previous paragraph and what they want to know next."
"Your best credential is yourself."
"Decide what you want to do. Then decide to do it. Then do it."

Profile Image for Shanae.
5 reviews2 followers
April 29, 2012
This book may have a few valuable suggestions throughout, but it is difficult to reap Zinsser's lessons through his sexism and eurocentrism. He uses his own work (Haircurl) in the "Humor" chapter for no good reason because he really doesn't do anything with it except to show that it is funny. Unfortunately, it is not funny, and it is actually quite offensively mocking women. In "A Writer's Decisions" he describes a piece he wrote with thickly layered romanticism about a desert tribe that exoticizes his subjects by using language like "ancient" "mystical" "natives". His use of language is definitely presenting his personae (something Zinsser encourages every writer to do), unfortunately his personae is a bourgeois anglophile. Though he is of German descent, "The Sound of Your Voice" is the clearest example of his disdain for "the other" as he praises English words and language used based on the King James Bible, Elizabethan period, and expresses disdain for verbs of Latin origin. Like I said, this book MAY have a few valuable suggestions, but there was nothing in it that I had not heard before and thus could probably find somewhere else where I would not have to endure Zinsser's sexist and eurocentric "humor".
Profile Image for Valeriu Gherghel.
Author 6 books1,291 followers
May 5, 2023
O lucrare excelentă, un „clasic” al literaturii americane.

Cîteva recenzii au luat forma unui rețetar (ceea ce se numește în engleză „listicle”) și ne anunță: „Cele 10 reguli pentru a scrie non-ficțiune în formularea lui Zinsser”. Sau : „10 sfaturi pentru a scrie bine de la renumitul Profesor William Zinsser”.

Aș observa, înainte de toate, că nici un scriitor versat nu-și compune articolele sau proza urmînd întocmai regulile enunțate și comentate de cineva, oricît de prestigios și „legendar” ar fi. Din cîte am observat, regulile lui Umberto Eco nu se potrivesc deloc cu cele ale lui W.G. Sebald. Iar cele ale lui Ray Bradbury sînt la antipodul celor formulate de Zinsser, Eco și Sebald. Toate regulile sînt opționale. Și nu există reguli enunțate o dată pentru totdeauna (și pentru toți). Orice scriitor e obligat să-și creeze propriul set de reguli.

Și, în plus, nu există reguli pentru a scrie ficțiune, pe de o parte, și reguli pentru a scrie non-ficțiune, pe de alta. Regulile și exemplele lui William Zinsser (1922 - 2015) sînt valabile în toate cazurile (și pentru articolul academic, și pentru povestire, și pentru editorialul de ziar). Simplu și limpede trebuie să scrie, așadar, atît autorul de literatură, cît și ziaristul de la cel mai umil cotidian de provincie. Îndemnul de a revizui un text e valabil și esențial pentru scriitorii de ambe genuri și de ambe sexe: „Esența scrisului este re-scrisul” (p.7). Henry David Thoreau a lucrat la Walden) timp de 8 ani. Abia după a șaptea versiune a fost mulțumit.

De altfel, cînd își ilustrează așa-zisul canon, Zinsser transcrie pasaje din autori precum: Joan Didion (p.50-51), George Orwell (p.19), Tom Wolfe (pp.22), E.B. White (pp.27-28, 33), H.L. Mencken (pp.28-29, 54-55), Edmund Wilson (p.51) etc.

Sigur, cele mai multe reguli sînt respectate de unii și ignorate de alții. De pildă, preceptul de a citi cu voce tare ceea ce tocmai ai scris: Gustave Flaubert l-a urmat toată viața, Marcel Proust, nu. În paranteză fie zis, Mihai Eminescu o irita pe doamna Slavici tocmai din pricina acestui obicei. Scria noaptea (ceea ce Zinsser nu recomandă) și-și recita versurile „cu glas înalt”, deranjînd prețiosul somn al femeii.

Foarte important e îndemnul la simplitate. Propoziția nu trebuie încărcată cu adverbe și adjective. Acest țesut adipos se cuvine eliminat fără milă. De asemenea, e preferabil să evităm cuvintele pompoase, zornăitoare. William Zinsser privea cu maxim dispreț termeni ca: a impacta, a prioritiza, a implementa, a colapsa. Doar substantivul „reziliență” lipsește. Toate aceste cuvinte țin de jargon (p.39).
Profile Image for Katelyn Beaty.
Author 9 books362 followers
June 28, 2007
I always thought of the ability to write well as a gift more than a skill--kind of like hand-eye coordination, or rhythm. You either have it or you don't. It's not until I began working in the editorial world that I realized the writing which seems effortless is that which requires the most effort. Part of my training at this job required reading a quintessential work on nonfiction writing, William Zinsser's "On Writing Well" (30th Anniversary edition). I was warned that it's a slow burn--perhaps the opposite of the other book I've read on the writing process, Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird." Zinsser's isn't littered with quirky anecdotes about his son's parasailing adventures or Buddhist friends or dreadlocks (only said with fondness, Annie). What Zinsser's book offered instead was practical and precise guidance on how to make the English language sing in your nonfiction writing.
Zinsser concentrates equally on the importance of technical mastery and original, honest ideas. On one hand, one must be able to convey information to his or her succinctly and clearly. This requires a breadth of knowledge on the ins-and-outs of English prose; grammar nerdiness doesn't hurt. (If you find yourself elated when you find someone else who uses the subjunctive tense, this book is for you.) Zinsser covers the variety of writing styles featured in most newspapers (i.e. sports writing vs. travel writing, common interest vs. international stories, etc.). But he also lays out suggestions on how to start the writing process as a writer-to-be. I especially enjoyed the section on how to make your personal story compelling as a memoir. I know everyone walks away from this book aspiring to become the next Tolstoy, but is this really such a silly aspiration?
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,457 reviews8,562 followers
February 20, 2016
A straightforward guide to writing solid nonfiction. William Zinsser offers sound advice, including how to eliminate clutter and ways to target your audience. He spans several genres within nonfiction, ranging from sports writing to travel articles to memoir. He incorporates several example passages from his favorite writers and from his own work.

On Writing Well provided tangible, quality writing tips. It did not excite me, though. Zinsser has a somewhat eurocentric perspective and his writing selections often come from white men. His tone itself bored me as well - it did not irritate me, it just failed to provoke any emotion. Still, I give this book four stars based on its content, even if its voice did not stand out. Overall, recommended to those searching for a pragmatic, more technical book about writing nonfiction.
Profile Image for John.
1,458 reviews36 followers
January 30, 2012
On Writing Well may primarily focus on non-fiction, but parts of it should be required reading for novelists, as well. Though, at first, Zinsser’s advice may seem anal–retentive and persnickety, it is great for keeping your work focused and making your sentences sharper.
The best part of On Writing Well focuses on“trimming the fat in the sentences you write. Zinsser provides a hand-edited page of his own On Writing Well manuscript as an example of how to cut down on useless words, and it is truly amazing to see how much even an expert writer like him can remove from his work without its losing any meaning or artistic merit. Not only should you eliminate useless words, but, according to Zinsser, you should also avoid using large words when smaller ones will suffice. I think this is especially good advice for fiction because, the easier a novel is to read, the more easily readers can lose themselves in it. I admit to being a fan of Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur (which Zinsser despises for its verbosity), but I can certainly see his main point, which can be summed up as, “Easy reading is damn hard writing"—to quote Hawthorne. Some writers (i.e. Faulkner, Joyce, etc.) can get away with breaking the rules because, as Zinsser states, they were geniuses. But, for the rest of us, getting the point across succinctly is the best way to satisfy our readers, should we be lucky enough to have any.
Using active sentences as often as possible further helps make our writing more interesting, both in fiction and non-, and, of course, in fiction, you also need to provide readers with a “hook” in order to ensnare them in your narrative. Knowing the exact meanings of words causes readers to put faith in you, and it’s important not to misuse or confuse them. Zinsser recommends keeping a dictionary handy at all times, which is an idea I am trying to take to heart.
Zinsser’s view of writing is that it is hard, arduous work—something the fiction writer should keep in mind because people tend to get the wrong impression that writing fiction amounts to little more than daydreaming at a desk all day. Nothing could be further from the truth: Great writers must be extremely meticulous and precise in their art, both in regard to story and the proper use of the English language. Reading Zinsser’s book is pretty discouraging in that it focuses mostly on the aspects of writing that people find most boring, however important they may be. Serious writers will, however, find it indispensible.

Profile Image for tappkalina.
649 reviews400 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
January 2, 2023
I would not recommend this to those who spend hours watching writing videos like moi.

If you still want to read it, hope it'll be more helpful to you.
Profile Image for Marc *Dark Reader of the Woods*.
780 reviews130 followers
December 14, 2020
I don't understand. This book is just the letters W—E—L—L written over and over again, for three hundred pages.
No? How about this then: It's not well known that the author was taken aback by several critical reviews of this book. He insisted that these were not factually accurate, particularly those written by female reviewers. He responded by publishing a sequel titled, "On Writing Actually".
One particular bit of writing advice resonates with me, in the chapter on reviewing the arts:
The temptation to make a name at the expense of some talentless ham is too strong for all but the most saintly.
That is factcheck: true.
Profile Image for Steven.
184 reviews2 followers
March 27, 2008
One of the oldest ways to master a craft is through imitation and writing well is no different. Zinsser's book stands alongside Strunk & White's "Elements of Style" as one of the best guides on how to write clearly and effectively. The book's tone and style is much like a series of lectures from a professor who projects a sense of knowledge, warmth, and passion.

Zinsser illustrates many of his points through the use of personal anecdotes and examples culled from writers of different disciplines. They all point to two of writing's main sources of inspiration: people and places. Without these as a starting point, there is no entry point for the reader or for the writer.

What separates and ultimately elevates Zinsser's book from Strunk & White is that Zinsser delves into the mentality of the writer, how she or he can approach writing and make the crucial decisions, and how to apply such principles as espoused by Strunk & White. I found that Zinsser's most important point was that good writing comes from a desire to write well, repeated effort, and judicious editing.
Profile Image for Shikhar.
35 reviews5 followers
October 19, 2022
I consumed it via audio version. Nice, short, intelligent book to bring clarity, bring simplicity, precision and humility to ones writing for a better connect with readers.

Being narrated by author added to the charm.
Profile Image for Joy D.
1,891 reviews218 followers
May 6, 2020
On Writing Well provides advice on how to write non-fiction. It is logically organized into four sections: Principles, Methods, Forms, and Attitude. The first section covers the basics. It conveys tips on writing in a straight-forward uncluttered manner with emphasis on action verbs. The second focuses on organization, presentation, and structure. The third shows examples of different types of writing, such as travel, memoir, science, business, sports, arts, and humor. The last section explores finding your own voice. It covers intangibles such as setting high standards, gaining confidence, and taking risks. This book is geared toward writing in English, but the concepts can be applied to other languages.

Zinsser’s background, as a published author and former professor at Yale and Columbia, gives him credibility. The book is easy to read and understand. I particularly liked Zinsser’s analysis of writing samples, with suggestions for improvement. I smiled often at his use of humor: “Leave ‘myriad’ and their ilk to the poets. Leave ‘ilk’ to anyone who will take it away.”

Originally published in 1976, I read the 30th anniversary edition, which has been updated but still feels dated – such as references to printouts and word processors. The author holds strong opinions and states them forcefully. He also tends to repeat himself. Nevertheless, I discovered sound tools and techniques to incorporate into my writing. Life-long learners will value the content.
Profile Image for Neil R. Coulter.
1,064 reviews104 followers
November 9, 2019
Returning to On Writing Well some years after the last read-through is like reconnecting with an old friend. This was one of the first books I read when I really started to learn how to write (which, I might mention, happened after I‘d completed a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees, and a PhD; thank you, American higher education). William Zinsser’s clarity and winsomeness fueled my love of writing and editing, and looking at the book now, I’m almost startled to recognize how much of my editing personality came from Zinsser. I’ve worked with hundreds of clients on editing and proofreading, and I know that Zinsser’s wise guidance has benefited all of them.

What I still love about On Writing Well is the simple, direct, encouraging style Zinsser uses. He makes the writing process seem so natural and clear. He demystifies common ideas about the work and craft, making it seem like something I really can do. I also appreciate the range of his perspective. He finds something to love in all kinds of writing—memoir, humor, travel, sports, and others. That breadth pushes me to find the good in a wide array of genres, too. I wish Zinsser would have talked more about academic writing, but that wasn’t his forte; and much of what he does say would improve writing in the humanities.

Zinsser completed the final revision of On Writing Well in 2006, and nine years later he died. As much as I continue to love the book and Zinsser’s influence, I’m also sad in this read-through to see that the book’s other-era-ness is now hindering its potential to speak to writers today. There are some cringing moments when Zinsser writes about other cultures and subcultures, other places in the world, and women. And though Zinsser writes carefully about humor, his own sense of humor now feels dated and corny. (It’s hard to imagine that his Haircurl satire was ever funny.) Some of his guidance is so outdated that it’s now wrong—such as his advice about interviewing, in chapter 12.

What I’d like is a writer’s guide that is still much closer to On Writing Well than to A World Without “Whom,” but that takes into account the speed of language change, the influence of internet communication, and pop culture references and a sense of humor that fit into today’s world. Zinsser took a particular approach to writing—an approach that looks back especially to E. B. White, one of Zinsser’s heroes—to its limit; now I want to read someone with that same wisdom but situated in this moment.

I’ll be reading On Writing Well with students next semester, and I’m very curious to see how they respond to it. I hope they’ll be able to take advantage of all the good it offers, without being distracted by its shortcomings; and I hope Zinsser will be a friend to them in their writing journeys.
Profile Image for Bibliobites  Veronica .
158 reviews21 followers
April 16, 2021
I was a long time reading this - probably a year and half, all told. But as I neared the end, I didn’t want it to end - and that is something I’ve never said about any non-fiction book, and certainly never expected to say about a writing book. But the author’s voice is so lovely and conversational, and I learned so much so effortlessly. Hopefully I can I put some of it into practice, on the small writing projects I have! But even if I never intended to write a word, I’d always be glad I read this.

My homeschooled high schoolers will all be reading it as well.
Profile Image for Mathis Sötje.
25 reviews2 followers
March 18, 2022
The true alchemists do not change lead into gold; they change the world into words. - William H. Gass

With On Writing Well, William Zinsser gives the reader an elegant guideline on how to change the world into words. Writing is a craft that can be practiced, and there are rules that govern the process. Just like architects have to do mulitple drafts of their work, authors have to do multiple drafts of theirs. There is always a word more fitting, a sentence more precise or a way to give the paragraph a better rhythm. There will always be a more poignant lead sentence or a more though-provoking ending.

The first draft of anything is shit.
― Ernest Hemingway

Besides rewriting, there are other guidelines that Zinsser suggests. Simplicity, or the absence of "clutter“, demands of the good writer to make their point as simple and precise as possible. This includes using simple words, but also just leaving out a lot. Adjectives are often clutter – grass is green without the writer telling the reader. A blue sky is something else, but a couch is cozy without adding the adjective. Many authors want to make their text as beautiful and rich with adjectives as possible - and leave the reader with the tiresome task of stripping away the clutter.

Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very;' your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.
― Mark Twain

When it comes to style, Zinsser provides a damn simple guideline: Think of writing for yourself. This will not only make your text authentic, but more coherent. When you write about your vacation and how you enjoyed it, and suddenly start copying an article on a sight you visited, the tone of your text will change dramatically and leave the reader confused.
Some readers may not like the way you are writing for yourself, but that’s not the issue. As a writer, you can’t please everybody – your goal should be to please only yourself. This is already hard enough, especially if you know a bit about writing and it’s arduous process.

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.
- Robert Frost

I read only the 20% of the book that cover the basics, which is more than enough for hobby writers. It was a quick read with interesting insights, many of which contradict what is taught in schools. Even if you are only interested in reading, this is certainly not a waste of time. Reading this book changed the way I read other books – I simply understood more of the precious craft of putting thoughts into words, and frankly, I am convinced that more writers should read this book before embarking on the demanding journey that is writing a book.
Profile Image for Gabrielė Bužinskaitė.
181 reviews58 followers
August 4, 2021
Unpleasant truth: very few of us write well.

This book is a strong start when you cannot define good writing, but you think you can produce it. I’m sure it will humble you. The author shares the most common writing mistakes — I started seeing them everywhere. He focuses on what to avoid if you want people to read your non-fiction.

For me, the most important message of the book is this: keeping the reader’s attention is the hardest thing to do. University didin’t teach me that; my work has always been read thoroughly and with care. But professors are paid to do it. Real readers are not. I only have few seconds to prove myself before they leave.

Even though the book was valuable to me, I only learnt what doesn’t work. The author didn’t address literary devices (alliteration, litotes, personification, etc.) that can enrich my writing and entertain the reader. Also, he barely discussed grammar, syntax and punctuation. No writing will be worth reading if it’s not grammatically correct (unless you are the next Bukowski).

So, it is a good start so you don’t embarrass yourself, but it won’t teach you the specifics of writing.

“Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.”
Profile Image for Rosie Nguyễn.
Author 6 books5,921 followers
July 27, 2015
A must read for those whose works relate to writing: students, teachers, businessmen, reporters, and of course, writers. Very useful tips along with very witty style. And above all, a man with high passion, virtue and responsibility with his job.
Profile Image for Miranda Cary.
52 reviews
February 13, 2013
In my opinion this book, compared to Elements of Style, is like being transported to an entirely different world in itself. No longer is some taut professor (sorry, Mr. White and Mr. Strunk! I still love you.) slapping a ruler against the board, directing you what verbs to use and which tenses sound best, what constitutes as good language compared to language that is gaudy and overrated, only putting the ruler down by the last few minutes of class to speak calmly with you; if White and Strunk truly taught that way, then Zinsser's style is simple. Take away the ruler, throw out the board, pull up a chair and get to the point--staying true to yourself and your craft.

Not that Strunk and White weren't already amazing teachers--Elements of Style is a brilliant guide. I just feel more relaxed with Zinsser, as if he's some kindly old professor who's taught the same lesson over and over again and refuses to do it in the same drab style. He doesn't just teach you the steps; Zinsser lets you explore further, allowing yourself to question what you're about to write and how to approach it, whatever the genre may be for your article. Not a word is out of place, and he keeps the definitions and directions fresh in our minds with examples from all sorts of sources.

I may not write a lot of nonfiction in my life, but On Writing Well isn't just for people with a desire to write. It's for anyone who NEEDS to write, and that's practically every person in this whole country, let it be businessman or teacher or whatever other profession that someone can have.

There are so many quotes from this book that I can rattle on about, but I'll leave you all with the most recent quote that popped into my mind:

"But finally the purposes that writers serve must be their own. What you write is yours and nobody else's. Take your talent as far as you can and guard it with your life. Only you know how far that is; no editor knows. Writing well means believing in your writing and believing in yourself, taking risks, daring to be different, pushing yourself to excel. You will write only as you make yourself write."
Profile Image for Mark Seemann.
Author 6 books420 followers
October 18, 2019
Write for you because otherwise what you write becomes impersonal. Write for the reader because otherwise what you write becomes parochial.

I'm already a writer, so I didn't buy this book to learn how to write. I bought it to become a better writer. Maybe it will make me a better writer.

I admit that I'm inspired to write about topics that I previously have not touched. How can I fault a book that inspires me?

On the other hand, I had expected more concrete advice on how to structure my writing; how to make my point with clarity; how to advance an argument or lead the reader to a particular insight. There's not much of that here, but again I can't blame a book for not achieving a goal it never professes to have.

Distilled to essence, writing well is to write deliberately. Write, rewrite, prune, and rearrange; never lose sight of the reader. Use active verbs and nouns. Prefer short, precise, native words over pompous Latin or Greek words.

The book seems to be a collection of essays on non-fiction writing. They're easy to read, and contain much reasonable advice, but I don't feel that I learned much that I didn't already know.
Profile Image for Kostiantyn Levin.
63 reviews17 followers
February 14, 2019
Попри те, що "On Writing Well" в перекладі має жахливу назву, Дмитро Кожедуб виконав велику роботу. Всі граматичні нюанси й відповідні приклади тексту він адекватно переніс з англійської на українську. Щодо самої книжки, перший і другий розділи насичено конкретними порадами, якими можна і треба користуватися. Третій і четвертий – класичний американський нон-фікшн, нескінченна балаканина з чисельними прикладами з життя, які мають розважати й надихати читачів (і дратувати мене). Ставлю четвірку, бо перша третина варта страждань з рештою тексту.
Profile Image for Volodymyr Dehtyarov.
55 reviews77 followers
January 27, 2016
Книга 5 из 52 #однакнигавнеделю Я увидел рецензию на книгу, кажется, у Дениса Довгополого и сразу ее купил в электронной версии для Kindle и в бумажной, чтобы оставить в офисе. Зинсер пишет просто и убедительно. На своем примере и отрывках из текстов других авторов он показывает, как писать просто, без словесного мусора, как подбирать нужные слова и следить за логикой текста. Отдельные главы посвящены текстам о людях, местах и путешествиях, спорте, искусстве, интервью и мемуарах. Не знаю, буду ли я при встрече благодарить Дениса за рекомендацию. Простой пост или короткий текст теперь я пишу вдвое дольше, переставляя местами слова и отслеживая ритм. Кое-кто из моих коллег уже почувствовал зинсеровскую редакторскую руку на себе - письма и отчеты я распечатываю и возвращаю автору с комментариями. Пожалуй, в офис закажу еще одну бумажную книгу в офис, а этот экземпляр пускай постоит у меня на полке.
Profile Image for My Tran.
48 reviews92 followers
September 8, 2017
Một trong những quyển sách về Viết lách hay nhất mình từng đọc. Tuy nhiên, nửa sau quyển sách khi đi vào chi tiết những chủ đề riêng biệt như Viết về Thể thao, hay Viết về Khoa học... thì lại buồn ngủ và khô khan quá, mang tính chất tham khảo nhiều hơn. Chính vì vậy mà mình đánh giá 4 sao thôi.

On Writing Well là quyển sách không phải chỉ đọc một lần, mà đọc xong đặt lên kệ, rồi thi thoảng lại lấy xuống đọc lại và nghiền ngẫm tiếp.

Quyển sách tiếp thêm sức mạnh cho mình rất nhiều, giúp mình tự tin hơn với giọng văn và phong cách viết. Đọc xong chỉ muốn ngồi xuống, áp dụng những lời khuyên hừng hực khí thế đó, và viết.

Trời ạ, chỉ những ai mê viết đến mức cảm thấy không thể sống một đời mà không viết lách được, mới hiểu cái sự vui thú của việc viết. Đặt con chữ vào nhau, và thăng hoa, rỉ máu.

Những quyển sách về chủ đề Viết lách mà mình đã đọc và yêu thích nhất:

- On Writing Well, William Zinsser
- On Writing, Stephen King
- Letters to A Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,657 followers
September 7, 2018
Really great practical advice on writing--be clear, be truthful, and don't get cocky. I should re-read this one again and again
Profile Image for Daniel.
246 reviews56 followers
July 5, 2018
Why Zinsser Still Matters

Second only to The Elements of Style, this is the best book ever written for writers. In many ways, it's better than Strunk and White, which tends to focus on grammar and the actual mechanics of writing as opposed to how a writer should think and approach things. The book focuses on nonfiction, but many (if not most) of the principles apply equally to any style of writing. Even chapters on things like how to do an interview offer valuable insights into what you're looking for when creating good characters or how to recognize and shape a character's voice.

The real victory of this book though comes in rescuing writing from the pomposity of the writing world. It approaches writing from it's long abhorred but more important angle of craftsmanship. Writing is not just an art. Sure, there is art involved, but it's also a craft, a skill that can be learned and honed and developed. Writers who think of what they do as a form of magic would do well to read this book. This error in understanding is even more pervasive in the category of aspiring writers than it is in publishing.

I recall hearing Neil Gaiman talk about how writers will write something, send it out, and wait for a response. If the responses come back negatively, then the writer decides that she is simply too far ahead of her time, or that the publishers simply don't understand what she was doing. "They don't get it," is the common writer's reply. Gaiman contended that the more likely truth is that what you've written simply isn't any good. Maybe it could be good if you fixed it, but it isn't now.

Craft is the bridge that allows you to fix it. It can't really be fixed with art. This is a book about the craft of writing and every writer would do well to read it periodically. I try to read it every couple of years just to refresh myself. I never fail to find new insights or discover new ways to approach the problems of writing.

It seems to me that writers who don't read and study this book along with a few others (The Elements of Style, On Writing, among others) are really just playing at being a writer. They are, as Alan Alda would say, "stuffing the dog".
Profile Image for Taka.
684 reviews507 followers
April 9, 2010
Read the first two parts--

Witty, concise, and informative, the first two parts on "Principles" and "Methods" are brilliant. These parts, however, constitute 30% of the book. The rest of the book - that is, 70% - is uneven and can be skipped without missing out on anything important.

The only chapters I found worth reading are those on "Science and Technology," "Business Writing," and "Writing About Arts," all of which are in Part III. Other than these, none of the chapters say anything that hasn't been said already and can be skimmed or skipped, according to your interest in the particular subject of each chapter.

One nugget of advice I found extremely helpful and would like to share is this: "Forget the competition and go at your own pace. your only contest is with yourself."

I couldn't have said better. Writers are egomaniacs who care too much about what other people think of their writing.

My advice: read the first two parts and only read what interests you after that.
Profile Image for Cathy DuPont.
456 reviews167 followers
February 11, 2014
With Steve's review, I was reminded that I had read this years ago and it's in my "book closet" where I have all my writing reference books.

When did I read it? Well, I would have to think back and I can figure it out but it will take a while and I would rather be reading than go down that particular "memory lane."

Five stars indicates what I thought of this book and glad to know that it's contents are still valid today.

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