Wednesday, August 29, 2018
The Book That Changed How I Approach Writing
by Tony Thomas
On Writing Well. Those three words say it all.
William Zinsser's book on non-fiction writing is a true gem and is must-read for any writer. It certainly revolutionized the way that I approach writing.
Zinsser taught me that "less is more" and that I need to simplify. He taught me to write to an individual and not to an audience. He also taught me to think clearly.
One of my favorite quotes from On Writing Well:
“But the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that's already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what--these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence. And they usually occur in proportion to education and rank...” (1)
Word economy is the key to clear communication. When I read older works, I often labor to dissect a sentence to determine exactly what a writer meant to say. This is unfortunate and a lot of us are similarly guilty of unnecessary embellishment. We use several paragraphs to convey information that can be summarized in one sentence. Sometimes this is due to arrogance. Sometimes it is just plain laziness.
As Zinsser says, "Writing is hard work". I would add that editing is even harder work.
(1) On Writing Well, William Zinsser
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