In my judgment, most books should be booklets, most booklets essays, most essays articles, most articles paragraphs, and most paragraphs should be statements.
It is far more important to write well than most folks realize. Writing not only communicates ideas, it also generates them—in the minds of both the author and the reader.
Effective Writing is a Lifelong Pursuit
One of my 2018 goals is to peruse two classic texts on writing clearly and concisely: William Strunk and E.B. White’s The Elements of Style (1918) and William Zinsser’s On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction (1980.)
Strunk and White affirm that brevity is the essence of good writing in these three sentences:
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.
Succinctness, simplicity, and humanity are also dominant objectives in William Zinsser’s On Writing Well.
Look for the clutter in your writing and prune it ruthlessly. Be grateful for everything you can throw away. Re-examine each sentence you put on paper. Is every word doing new work? Can any thought be expressed with more economy? Is anything pompous or pretentious or faddish? Are you hanging on to something useless just because you think it’s beautiful? Simplify, simplify.
On Writing Well is a celebrated guide to concise, unmistakable, and well-crafted writing. The book has sold several million copies worldwide, and is a required reading at many a university course.
Good writing doesn’t come naturally, though most people seem to think it does … Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.
Zinsser’s central premise is that good writing is the result of hard work, not inborn talent. The book’s particular strength is in Zinsser’s selection of paragraphs by great writers, and his instruction on how to learn from those writers: “Writing is learned by imitation. If anyone asked me how I learned to write, I’d say I learned by reading the men and women who were doing the kind of writing I wanted to do and trying to figure out how they did it.”
On Writing Well is a must-read for anyone who writes and desires to his or her prose. Read Derek Sivers’ helpful synopsis of the book.
Leave a Reply