On Writing Well


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I went to Barnes and Noble near my apartment after lunch. I read "On Writing Well, The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction" by William Zinsser for the second time. 

It was, in my opinion, a very good book for people who wanted to write. In part I, Zinsser told us to write simply and remove clutter from our writing. For example, he said that we could remove "personal" from "his personal feeling." "personal" in the example did not serve any purpose and should be eliminated. He explained that by writing simply and removing clutter, we learned how to nail hammers. Only then, we would learn to build beautiful houses by finding our own "style" of writing.

In part II, he talked about methods. He discussed the unity of pronouns and tense. For example, if we used first person narrative in past tense, we should stick with that to the end. He also talked about the lead and the ending. We had to write a good lead so that readers would stay with us to the end. He finally talked about the technicalities of writing--the difference between that and which, for example.

In part III, he discussed different forms of writing, namely 1) about people, 2) about places, 3) about yourself, 4) science and technology, 5) business writing, 6) about arts, 7) sports, and 8) humor.

In part IV, he discussed attitudes: 1) the sound of our voice, 2) fear of disapproval and failure, 3) our fixation on the final product, 4) writing as well as we could. 

First, he talked about the sound of our voice. He advised us not to change our voice to fit the subject we were writing about. Instead he suggested that we should write every subject we were writing with our own voice. He reminded us not to use cliché. He wanted us to choose words that had surprise, strength and precision.

Second, he talked about enjoyment as a writer and our fear of disapproval and failure. "Write for the enjoyment of yourself and readers", he said. "Overcome the fear of not being able to write." To build confidence, we should write about subjects that interest us and that we care about.

Then, he told us not to fix our attention on the finished article. We had to quest to know more about the subject we were writing. He discussed making decisions, for example, about the structure of our writing to engage readers from the beginning to the end, and also about making decisions to choose individual words. He did not want us to write like everybody else. We needed to carefully choose words that could take readers along with us.

His final advice was to write as well as we could--rewrite, rewrite and rewrite. He told us to negotiate with editors and trust them. But we shouldn't lose our style because of them.

Other than On Writing Well, I am also reading Raymond Carver's "What we talk about when we talk about love." I have read this once at Kinokuniya bookstore in Bangkok. I am reading it again paying attention to details this time.

I am hoping to read a lot of books this summer before school starts again in August.


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