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on 31 May 2017
Fantastic and insightful!
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on 9 August 2017
Great book for any writer (or even reader), and very readable too. The best.
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on 18 July 2017
The book is very focussed and helpful in defining what the written word can hope to achieve and how.
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on 10 December 2016
Enjoyable and informative but very dated and turgid in presentation.
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on 15 July 2014
An enjoyable read as well as full of sensible advice.
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on 27 April 2017
Not quite the bible sold up to be. Like most 'How to write' books, it's a collection of good points lost within an autobiography, which goes against the underlying concept of keeping your writing concise and to the point. At least Zinsser openly admits that he likes this style.

Another common trap that this guide falls into like so many others is the author's obsessive need to big up those who influenced their own work, in this case, E.B. White. Now, there's nothing wrong with that--those writers are considered great for a reason--but at least take the time to choose the passages to quote that support the argument being made.

When given a quote like: "I spent several days and nights in mid-September with an ailing pig and I feel driven to account for this stretch of time, more particularly since the pig died at last, and I lived, and things might easily have gone the other way round and none left to do the accounting," take the time to dissect the sentence and explain how it does its job so well. Telling a reader seeking understanding to, "Look at the sentence again. Nothing about it is accidental. The grammar is formal, the words are plain and precise, and the cadences are those of a poet," doesn't tell them anything at all. It's these very vague overviews that we're constantly being advised against.

Maybe I'm lacking context, or maybe I'm one of the hacks Zinsser often refers to, but I can't see any of what he claims is in this sentence. I don't understand what 'more particular' even means--I've heard of the term 'in particular--and despite having read the passage ten times over, the final clause remains awkward and leaves me baffled.

All of that said, when Zinsser does stay on topic, there are some real gems here. I found the parts on punctuation, clutter, and leads and endings to be of particular value, organising your sentences and paragraphs. There's also some good clarification on the Active and Passive voice that so many others talk about, yet rarely educate on. When not bombarding us with tales of classroom events and holidays, Zinsser also does a fine job of delving into editing side of writing--the importance of rewriting, the hourly battles with single sentences, and how you can only ever strive towards perfection, but never truly attain it. I found that all very comforting.

On a final note, the book is primarily aimed towards non-fiction writing, especially in the article world. If you're doing that, the value you take from this guide will likely jump up, since there are entire chapters dedicated to writing on specific topics such as people, places, the arts, sports, science etc. For those focused purely on fiction, the technical value mostly comes in the first tenth of the book, with some confidence building thoughts dotted throughout the rest. So there's value to be had, for sure, but don't expect a miraculous transformation in your understanding on how to deliver a gripping novel.
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on 23 February 2012
A "New York Times" reviewer said William Zinsser's "On Writing Well" is "a bible for a generation of writers looking for clues to clean, compelling prose." I couldn't agree more. After reading the first draft of my book's manuscript an editor recommended I read Zinsser's book. It revolutionized how I wrote. I think of my writing career as before and after Zinsser.
Zinsser calls On Writing Well a craft book. He set out 25 years ago to teach the craft of writing warmly and clearly, He has revised and expanded it five times since 1976.
He says the clarity and strength of good writing gives it aliveness and keeps the reader reading from one paragraph to the next. The principles of good writing can be learned.
Rewriting is the essence of writing well: We all have an emotional equity in our first draft; we can't believe it wasn't born perfect. But the odds are close to 100% that it wasn't. The newly hatched sentence almost always has something wrong with it.
Zinsser says clutter is the disease of American writing. The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that's already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what - these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence. For example in the 1960s the president of Zinsser's university told alumni, "You are probably aware that we have been experiencing very considerable explosive expressions of dissatisfaction on issues partially related." Instead he could simply have said, "The students have been hassling them about different things."
Zinsser's mantra is simplify, simplify. A reader is someone with an attention span of 30 seconds - a person assailed by many forces competing for attention. If the reader is lost, it's usually because the writer has not been careful enough. The sentence may be too cluttered that the reader, hacking through the verbiage, doesn't know what it means. With each rewrite Zinsser tries to make what he has written tighter, stronger and more precise. He eliminates every element that's not doing useful work. When he reads it aloud he is always amazed at how much clutter can still be cut. Every detail is worth bothering about. Writing improves in direct ratio to the number of things we can keep out of it. Most first drafts can be cut by 50 percent without losing any information or the author's voice.
Few people realize how badly they write. You have to strip your writing down before you build it back up. If your verbs (an action or occurrence) is weak and your syntax (sentence or phrase) is rickety, your sentence will fall apart.
Sentence clutter is the enemy. Beware of the long word that is no better than the short word: assistance (help), numerous (many), initial (first), attempt (try) and hundreds more. Beware of fad words like "paradigm" or "prioritize" as they are weed words that smother writing. Just as insidious are words used to explain ourselves: I might add, It should be pointed out, due to the fact that (because), with the possible exception of (except), lacked the ability to (he couldn't), for the purpose of (for).
Zinsser recommends we put brackets around every component of a sentence that doesn't work. Common errors are an adverb that carries the same meaning as a verb (smile happily), an adjective that states a fact (tall skyscraper), qualifiers that weaken a sentence (a bit, sort of) or an unnecessary preposition appended to a verb (order up).
Other characteristics of good writing include active verbs. An active-verb style brings clarity and vigor. It's the difference between life or death for the writer. Active verbs push hard; passive verbs tug fitfully. Active words require a pronoun (he, she) and enable us to visualize the motion and activity. Verbs can carry imagery, meaning, sound and suggestion. They dazzle, glitter, scatter and poke. Good verbs make adverbs and adjectives unnecessary. Prune out small qualifiers: a bit, sort of, rather, quite, very and too. They dilute style and persuasiveness. Bad writing often uses nouns instead of verbs to tell what somebody did. Problem sentences can be solved by getting rid of them. Keep paragraphs short. Short paragraphs put air around what you write and make it look inviting.
He urges us to write in the first person: to use "I"and "me" and "us" as they put up a fight. It says what we think and feel is important. There is only one of us. Nobody else thinks or feels in exactly the same way.
With more than a million copies sold "On Writing Well" has stood the test to time and remains a valuable resource for writers.
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on 14 February 2017
Do not buy the version of the book where publisher is Turtleback books.

There are three problems:
- The print quality is horrible
- It is not a hardback as advertised
- The covers are scanned


The paper the book has been printed on is so thin that it's almost transparent. You can see the previous page through the page you are reading. This makes reading the book almost impossible. You can not see the font and thus the words clearly.


In the description it is advertised as being a hardback. Nope. Not a hardback. A paperback-sized book with "harder than normal" paperback covers.


The front and back of the book are scanned. The quality of the scan and print is horrible.

My suggestion: Buy an earlier edition of the book or the Kindle version.
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on 18 August 2014
Good content with lots of padding. Take out the 100 pages of quotes from himself and other authors, remove the reminiscences that litter the latter two thirds of the book and what remains is good. There is lots of common sense good advice for a wanna-be writer. Whether you learn from the authors 'tales of yore' is another matter.
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on 30 March 2017
Excellent book. A must for new authors
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