On Writing Well Audio Cassette – 1 Oct 1994
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Warns against common errors in structure, style, and diction, and explains the fundamentals of conducting interviews and writing travel, scientific, sports, critical, and humorous articles. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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WARNING: An audiobook called on 'writing well' by W.Zinsser is very different in content to the printed book of the same title. The audiobook I purchased, also called 'On Writing Well' by Zinsser is heavily focused on writing memoirs and not much else.
The printed book of the same title (1998 edn., HarperCollins) is a superior work, broader and more comprehensive in scope than the audiobook I purchased. The printed book covers a useful cross-section of non-fiction genres. I purchased the hardback from Amazon, and the Audiobook was an mp3 download. Clearly, nothing can be taken for granted!
I hope this helps someone avoid disappointment.
If you write non-fiction then this book is really a must for the bookshelf. I’ve just finished my second reading of it and William Zinsser has left me with a strong urge to write something – anything, just so I can begin to play with some of his ideas.
In parts, the text feels dated. Mind you the original was written in 1976. This edition is the sixth, published in 1998 with major revisions. Some of it I found a little dry – though no less valuable for that. But there were sections I actually found hard to put down. Chapter 23, the second to last, I struggled to let go of. In it the author dissects an article he wrote and even goes into detail about why he might choose one word over another, why the piece was structured the way it was, and why he ended it when he did. It fascinated me and made me realise that I need to pay a lot more attention to what I’m doing when I write.
I wasn’t expecting the cleverness and word play that the author makes frequent use of, but as I began to get used to his style, these hidden gems became more obvious to me and I realised that he was just having fun writing a book about writing.
I’m going to put it on my bookshelf and pick it up in about twelve months time, when I will enjoy it even more.
As I was looking to post this review I noticed that there is a more recent edition (2006) available, so you might want to check out that version.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
"Many of us were taught that no sentence should begin with "but." If that's what you learned, unlearn it - there's no stronger word at the start. It announces a total contrast with what has gone before, and the reader is thereby primed for the change."
In my years as a freelance writer, no single word has been the cause of as many arguments with inexperienced editors and know-it-all clients as the tiny "but." Finally, I hold in my hands the opinion of a recognized authority (one who has served on the usage panel of "The American Heritage Dictionary") who can put an end to this quibbling.
But this isn't all that recommends this book. "On Writing Well" is possibly the best-written, most-accessible coverage of effective nonfiction writing that I have ever seen. The shelves of most writers (including my own) and many bookstores are filled with how-to books on writing. Most of these tend to be of the spiritual or advice-giving sort: helping writers overcome blocks, feeling good about a suspicious career choice, getting published and the like. At the opposite pole, many of the rest focus on the minutiae of arcane linguistic rules.
Zinsser takes on writing. In 300 pages (which in themselves serve as an admirable example of effective prose) he tackles a broad range of subjects such as style, tone, word usage, structure, and unity, and applies these principles to various forms of nonfiction writing: the interview, the travel article, the memoir, etc.
A breath of fresh air, this. The author finds the practical middle ground between the bubbly motivational and dry-as-dirt grammar books that so many of us find ourselves reading when we're not writing. No small wonder that this book has gone through numerous editions since it was first published - it is an invaluable tool.
Take down your bookshelves and put up a framed portrait of Mr. Zinsser. This is one of the few books you'll actually need (and re-read) on your way to becoming a better writer.
What a revelation! According to Zinsser, I was guilty of a multitude of sins: clutter, fuzzy thinking, poor usage, passive verbs, you name it. So I repented, and now I'm a disciple.
This book is as engaging as it is instructive. It's so easy to read and understand, you can't help but improve. It spells out everything that's wrong most people's writing, then provides simple solutions. You'll cut pounds of fat from your writing. Your sentences will sparkle and your paragraphs will dance. Best of all, your readers will read, not groan.
The book is billed for writers of nonfiction, but its benefits extend to all writers. If you enjoy writing, even if you hate to write but find yourself in a profession that demands it, this book will vastly improve your work. It should grace every writer's bookshelf, right next to Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style" and Kilpatrick's "The Writer's Art."
The first of four parts, Principles, discusses matters such as word choice and style, especially simplicity. Part two is Methods. It cites examples of good writing, and discusses the various attributes of those pieces, including an invaluable short section on grammar. The third part, Forms, includes details on how to write for specific genres. And the final part, Attitudes, addresses what I consider the writer's most valuable thing: his view of his craft.
In the first part, the author explains that the principles that make a great writer can be learned. He shows that revising does not become unnecessary, even as one progresses in the craft. The chapter includes two pages of a heavily written manuscript written by Zinsser himself. The author discourages the use of jargon, arguing that it cheapens your style. Instead, clearness and simplicity are what you should strive for.
In part two, Zinsser discusses the various methods of good writing. He first emphasizes unity, and then moves to what I consider the most useful section of the book-a chapter titled "Bits and Pieces." As its name suggests, this chapter comprises all the miscellaneous writing errors noticed by the author. And instead of using "25 columns of type" as Fowler does in his Modern English Usage, Zinsser explains the difference between that and which in a single page. Each section in "Bits and Pieces" is short, but that makes the chapter more useful because it doesn't take too long to read. Zinsser explains each method with grace and humor.
The third part, Forms, is the longest and seemed to me at first to be the least useful. There is a chapter about interviewing, and another about writing the memoir. .... Other chapters, such as "Science and Technology," were more directly pertinent to my goals, and the chapter on humor made me laugh out loud. But I came to understand the value of reading about other forms of the craft of writing as well as my own-it showed me that my own focus is just a small part of the whole. I came to appreciate the care put into news stories that use interviews; reading about it was no waste of time.
The final section of the book is devoted to attitudes. The author delves into the psychology of the writer when writing. He advises us to not confine ourselves to a certain field because a good writer can write about anything. He uses an example from his own experience, telling how he came to appreciate the work of a respected photographer and painter of birds by writing the man's story. Before he did this, the Zinsser had never really written a similar pieces. Next comes a chapter titled "The Tyranny of the Final Product." It discusses how some people write for a specific magazine or audience, and in doing so never allow their work to develop into something new and exciting. Finally, Zinsser tells us to write as well and with as much enthusiasm as we can-and that our efforts will be rewarded. He ends the final chapter with a powerful message: if we don't write as well as we can, we may disappoint our readers.
Before reading On Writing Well, I already had come to value simplicity over complexity and brevity over verbosity. But Zinsser's tips helped me refine my ideas and approach. I also found valuable the explanations of the process a writer takes: what he thinks as he organizes his work, as he uses his voice. Writing is a craft; great writing follows patterns. Zinsser's On Writing Well traces these patterns out, and makes an invaluable guide. It is worthy of your bookcase if you write and want to write more well.
As editor of two weekly newspapers, I keep a copy of 'On Writing Well' at my office and require that new writers read it and buy their own copy. It doesn't take much prompting.
The text covers virtually all aspects of good, strong journalsim in an easy-to-understand format. From humor -- the toughest form of writing in a serious news format -- to hard news, Zinsser's often-reprinted work is a must.
Although geared toward non-fiction, the book covers creative writing and developing a 'style' well. Too many writers try for style before they find substance. Zinsser clearly explains why that's a bad idea.
Forget all the 'best of' books and buy this one. There's more useful information in each chapter of 'On Writing Well' than in entire volumes of many other like books.
After 11 years in the business, a copy of the book remains in the smallest room in my house. I've probably read it over 100 times and each read turns up something fresh in the text, helping to improve my own skills.
'On Writing Well' should be part of college courses along with the Associated Press Style Book. I reference it almost as often.
If writers want to improve, or those who want to be writers want to know how to break into the business, this is the book.
John Lowman, Editor Texas Press Association
Zinsser gives extremely practical advice about writing, in a very flowing and interesting style. One important thing he stresses is that to write well, one has to *work at it*. I was used to sitting down and expecting the words just to flow. Now when I write, I take the time to use the principles Zinsser outlines. This is one of those books that I have highlighted nearly every line in. The whole book is very useful for the professional and novice writer. I don't think I would ever be without it. The interview section was particularly helpful when I needed to do one for a church newsletter. There should be something for everyone who wants to write about places, sports, science, business, or memoirs (there is a chapter on each).
This book will be of particular help to me when I go to graduate school next year. Then I will especially need to be able to organize my thoughts and write in a clear and concise manner. Overall I cannot stop stressing how important this book has been in improving my writing style.