Writing is thinking on paper. Anyone who can think clearly—can write. That’s one of the ideas of the book On Writing Well by William Zinsser. But what does Zinsser mean with clearly? That’s what you’ll discover in this book review and summary.
Write in Plain English
I got delighted when I found that Zinsser wants writing to be simple. Not being a native English person—I don’t know all the fancy words. Now, how do you keep your writing simple?
Avoid long sentences and try to stick with shorter words. Don’t say the same thing with different words in several sentences. Your reader is not stupid. But the reader is, however, intolerant to repetitive sentences that are a waste of time. So, keep your reader interested by avoiding the mistake of clarifying things too much. Time is precious and social media amongst other distractions are close at hand.
Have you ever read a formal message from an intuition? I bet you answered yes, but did you finish the text? That’s another story. But why is their writing painful to read and why do they not write clearly?
Most intuitions want to appear “professional”. Corporations think that the reader will think less of them if they don’t use a complicated style of writing. Guess what, while the “big boys” are stuck in their ego—smaller businesses are playing the friend game. Which one of these texts would you prefer to read? (Both examples are presenting the same product—a dog ball).
Our emerging product is comprehensive and manufactured professionally and through environment-friendly procedures that make the hollow spherical object hardwearing throughout the lifespan of the customer’s endeavors.
We got a new durable ball for your best friend. It’s eco-friendly and dogs love it!
Take a Stand
Now, there’s another reason to why intuitions want to keep their writing unclear. By using generalizations, the writer can avoid responsibility. Do the opposite if you want to engage your readers.
Even if you write in plain English, you might add “kind of, somewhat or a little bit” to your sentences. According to Zinsser, you should avoid that. Be decisive and take a stand. You’re not writing for everyone and if you try to please all—you’ll end up writing for no one.
Use I and Write for Yourself
Most writers don’t want to use phrases as I think. They tell themselves: who am I to think and write an opinion? Self-confidence issues must be dealt with if you want to engage your readers. They want to know what you think so make your writing personal by using I.
Zissner also advises writers to write for themselves. Don’t reflect on the audience and cater your style to what you think will please them. Writing is supposed to be pleasing to YOU. Call it therapy or whatever you want—but the reader will appreciate your authenticity.
Bits And Pieces and other Concepts
The book on writing well goes into a lot more than just simplicity and bold writing. But these are the ideas that I think will benefit you the most. At least it did for me.
After reading this book, you will quit worrying about what your English teacher told you. Again, if you can think clearly—you can write. Writing is nothing more than thinking on paper. Don’t make it more complicated than it has to be.
Now, you might want to clean up your writing. By reading this book, you’ll discover some pitfalls to avoid. For example, let’s say you think and therefore write like this:
I kind of felt tired this morning because my shitty alarm clock woke me the f*ck up. I can’t believe these sons of b*itches are playing that got damn song again.
Come to think of it. The writing above might amuse some readers. But I believe that Mr. Zinsser (who was a teacher) would not approve it. He stated that rewriting is what creates a masterpiece. Here is where I find myself questioning his methods.
My Review of The Book On Writing Well
To me, the most powerful experience you can get when writing is to get into a flow. When in a flow state, words comes out without much effort. Now, from my understanding, Mr. Zinsser tells one to put much focus on rewriting. He doesn’t say that you should write first and then rewrite. I believe that he was a writer that rewrote while writing.
I think that rewriting while writing is a very inefficient way of creating a masterpiece. It disrupts the joy of writing. Yes, writing is a craft, but it can also be a passion. If you’re always telling a painter that he’s holding the pencil wrong—even though it works for him—do you think he’ll keep the flame alive for long?
I think that his academic position and status got in the way of his message. He lost me after the first half of the book. I found myself drifting away into other thoughts while feeling that he was trying to prove his knowledge. He gave numerous examples of writing that he called excellent that I thought was boring.
Excellent writing is subjective. What you enjoy reading is what someone else dreads. Again, I felt that Zinsser was trying too hard to prove his academic knowledge to his peers. Not to say that his points weren’t good—he just lost my attention.
To Summarize the Summary
The 80/20 rule states that 20% of the book contains 80% of the valuable information (I made that up, but I think it does if you study the law). My goal with this summary was to give you the 20%. To summarize here is what we’ve covered:
- Keep your writing simple.
- Avoid long and meaningless words and sentences.
- Use I and write first and foremost for yourself.
- Rewrite to make your writing as clear as possible.
Thank you so much for reading! Feel free to drop a comment below and let me know what you think.