On Writing Well by William Zinsser

by RS on December 28, 2011

On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
By William Zinsser
Collins Reference, 2001
308 pages
List Price: $14.99; Amazon Price: $8.98

[Note: I’m cheating a bit here. This review first appeared on Alvah’s Books over a year ago, but I figured to introduce this new feature I would start with one of the first books I read about writing.  Just in case you don’t know, Alvah’s Books is my book review site. I didn’t plagiarize anyone’s review, just my own.  Also, I am an Amazon Affiliate, if you click on the image it will take you directly to the page and you can purchase the book from there.]

A few years ago, I took a writing class to break into magazines and newspapers at the New School in Manhattan taught by Sue Shapiro. Sue is a prolific writer: She’s written five memoirs, a novel, hundreds of book reviews, and thousands of essays. If you take her class, she’ll give you realistic assignments that possibly can lead to publication in major newspapers or magazines like The New York Times or Newsweek in the sections that publish essays. Most of the reading assignments are in those sections as well as On Writing Well by William Zinsser.

Zinsser offers clear and to the point advice on sharpening your writing style. Divided into four parts, Zinsser kicks it off with writing principles. Chapters include: how to simplify your prose, develop a style, get to know your audience etc. Part two concentrates on writing methods: How to construct a lede and conclude your piece, how to make your story cohesive. Part three is about the different forms of nonfiction: interviews, travel, book reviews, sports, humor, science and technology and so forth. The last part is about attitudes and these chapters include the sound of your voice, decisions you make as a writer, writing as well as you can, and the emotions and phases all writers experience–enjoyment, fear, and confidence.

After On Writing Well, Zinsser published Writing to Learn and this book has also been invaluable to me. Once again, he teaches you how to write clearly about any subject and how to use writing as a means of learning.

For anyone who wants to write non-fiction, On Writing Well is a must have. Buy it, read it and refer to it often. You won’t regret it.

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