On Writing Well
- William Zinsser
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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)
you will be impatient to find a “style”—to embellish the plain words so that readers will recognize you as someone special.
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.
Never say anything in writing that you wouldn’t comfortably say in conversation. If you’re not a person who says “indeed” or “moreover,” or who calls someone an individual (“he’s a fine individual”), please don’t write it.
today’s spoken garbage may be tomorrow’s written gold.
Memoir is the art of inventing the truth.
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.
“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.
I don’t want to give somebody my input and get his feedback, though I’d be glad to offer my ideas and hear what he thinks of them.
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.
every successful piece of nonfiction should leave the reader with one provocative thought that he or she didn’t have before. Not two thoughts, or five—just one.
The perfect ending should take your readers slightly by surprise and yet seem exactly right. They didn’t expect the article to end so soon, or so abruptly, or to say what it said. But they know it when they see it.
There’s not much to be said about the period except that most writers don’t reach it soon enough.
When you use a quotation, start the sentence with it. Don’t lead up to it with a vapid phrase saying what the man said.
If a phrase comes to you easily, look at it with deep suspicion; it’s probably one of the countless clichés that have woven their way so tightly into the fabric of travel writing that you have to make a special effort not to use them.
Criticism is the stage on which journalists do their fanciest strutting.
Music 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,
Critics should be among the first to notify us when the truths we hold to be self-evident cease to be true.
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.
This heightening of some crazy truth—to a level where it will be seen as crazy—is the essence of what serious humorists are trying to do.
was being taken into a world I knew nothing about, and his affection for that world was appealing.
Banality is the enemy of good writing; the challenge is to not write like everybody else.
Clarity is what every editor owes the reader. An editor should never allow something to get into print that he doesn’t understand.