Book Notes: On Writing Well by William Zinsser

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I read On Writing Well earlier this year which made a huge impact on my thoughts about writing. I am revisiting my book notes and highlights in the last weeks of the year and thought I should post a summary of key takeaways from each book.

Zinsser stresses on these points when writing non-fiction.

  • Thinking
  • Passion
  • Structure
  • Editing
  • Confidence

Clear thinking leads to clear writing.

  • Don't do a brain dump and publish. Organize your thoughts and present them in a cohesive manner.
  • Your sentences should be simple and contain only one idea. Readers can't process more than one idea at a time.
  • People care about your writing if you have something interesting to say.
  • Ask the following questions before you start, to frame how your article is going to converse with the readers.
    • In what capacity am I going to address the reader?
    • What pronouns and tense am I going to use?
    • What one point I want to make?
    • How much should I cover?

Confidence

  • You're writing for yourself. Writing is an act of ego and your first audience is the you.
  • Believe in your identity and your own opinion. Don't be afraid to take firm stance in your writing.
  • You're an unique individual, try to show your uniqueness in your writing. Write about what you think and know.

Passion

  • If you follow your affection and write about it, readers will engage well with your writing.
  • Go after subjects that interests you, remember you're writing for yourself and if you write what interests you, readers will engage.

Structure

  • First sentence is important for an article.
  • Every paragraph should amplify the previous paragraph's message.
  • Always collect more materials than you will use.
  • Story telling is the compelling method to grab someone's attention. Look for ways to convey your writing as a narrative.
  • Ending is almost as important as the beginning. When you feel you have told everything you know about a subject, you should stop.
  • Don't overstate or misinform about anything in your writing. It'll undermine your credibility.
  • Don't hesitate to imitate other writers. It will help you in finding your own style.

Editing

  • Most first drafts can be edited and cut by 50% without losing any meaning.
  • Read your writing aloud, you can identify the words that are not fitting your style and usage.
  • Writing is just the first step of good writing. Rewriting is the important step.

Food for thought

The below two lines made me think a lot so I wanted to share them.

  • Careers rise and fall simply because people can't clearly state an idea or a fact.
  • (In writing) Quality is its own reward.

This is my first attempt in summarizing books. I have doubts about this format. Let me know what do you think.

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Comments (2)

Anuradha Kumari's photo

Thanks for summarizing. It looks like an interesting read. I think I am gonna pick this book this weekend 🙌

Vignesh M's photo

Thanks Anuradha.