On Writing Well

William Zinsser
Year of Publication
2006 (first edition 1976)
When I read it
December, 2013
What I thought
5 stars
Buy the book

Choice Highlights

I said that writing is a craft, not an art, and that the man who runs away from his craft because he lacks inspiration is fooling himself. He is also going broke.
Beware, then, of the long word that’s no better than the short word: “assistance” (help), “numerous” (many), “facilitate” (ease), “individual” (man or woman), “remainder” (rest), “initial” (first), “implement” (do), “sufficient” (enough), “attempt” (try), “referred to as” (called)…
Trying to add style is like adding a toupee. At first glance the formerly bald man looks young and even handsome. But at second glance—and with a toupee there’s always a second glance—he doesn’t look quite right.
…today’s spoken garbage may be tomorrow’s written gold.
“Ongoing” is a jargon word whose main use is to raise morale. We face our daily job with more zest if the boss tells us it’s an ongoing project; we give more willingly to institutions if they have targeted our funds for ongoing needs.
Nobody can write a book or an article “about” something. Tolstoy couldn’t write a book about war and peace, or Melville a book about whaling. They made certain reductive decisions about time and place and about individual characters in that time and place—one man pursuing one whale. Every writing project must be reduced before you start to write.
There’s not much to be said about the period except that most writers don’t reach it soon enough.
…critics have almost no power, writing about a cluster of sounds that have vanished into the air and will never be heard in the same way again…
What is crucial for you as the writer is to express your opinion firmly. Don’t cancel its strength with last-minute evasions and escapes.