On Writing Well is an excellent book for non-fiction writers. I enjoyed William Zinsser’s approach to this topic. He takes his content seriously yet writes in an upbeat manner with moments of humour. The first edition of the book was published in 1975 and I read the 2001 edition, yet most of the information is still relevant because it’s largely general in nature.
Zinsser begins with the common problems of writing, such as the importance of clarity and simplicity. The writer has to keep in mind what the reader is interested in knowing and not try to impress them with their knowledge or vocabulary. The beginnings and endings of articles need particular attention to engage the reader and leave them feeling satisfied.
In the middle section of the book, Zinsser writes about the specific issues associated with articles about travel, science and technology, sports, the arts, memoir and other articles. This middle section was of less interest to me because I don’t write in these genres. Nevertheless, he makes some good points.
He concludes with chapters on voice, confidence and writers’ fears where he makes some useful insights.
Overall, On Writing Well continues to be a good reference for non-fiction writers.
“Therefore a fundamental rule is: be yourself.”
“They (Writers) must relax and have confidence.” … “Telling a writer to relax is like telling a man to relax while being examined for a hernia, and as for confidence, see how stiffly he sits, glaring at the screen that awaits his words. See how often he gets up to look for something to eat or drink. A writer will do anything to avoid the act of writing. I can testify from my newspaper days that the number of trips to the water cooler per reporter-hour far exceeds the body’s need for fluids” (pg. 20).
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