After reading this book I am very glad not to be a writer: it sounds like a lot of work. Oh, sure, Zinsser says it’s necessary to be passionate and enthusiastic, and to take joy in the work of writing, but I don’t see how, not with all the rewriting, the editing, the trimming, the constant worry that the wrong word has snuck in somehow.

But, if I were a writer I would be very grateful for this book: straight-forward and practical advice for the would-be non-fiction writer; advice that is sure to improve the writer’s (output? product? work? - oh, dammit, now he’s got me doing it).

He proceeds more or less bottom up, from words and punctuation, through paragraph structure, the parts of a typical non-fiction piece, and finally to meta issues such as choice of subject. And throughout the book he returns to his most basic themes: writing with clarity and simplicity, and writing in a logical and orderly way (unlike this review, which is wandering all over the place).

One thing I found helpful was his insistence that a good writer must avoid banality and cliched writing: it is so very easy to just spew out hackneyed prose rather than take the time and effort to find an original way of saying something (see what I just did there?).

Well - one thing has become obvious to me while writing this: if you read this book (and I hope that you do), set it aside for a while before you try to write anything. Trying to write even a simple throw-away review immediately after reading this book is damned near impossible. I feel, correctly, that I should take this drivel and rework it several times before inflicting it on the world. Last week I would have just said “good enough is good enough”.

Thank goodness I’m not a writer.



Book cover

Metadata Info

  • Title: On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
  • Author: William Zinsser
  • Published: 1976
  • ISBN: 0060891548
  • Buy: Amazon search
  • Check out: Seattle library
  • Rating: 4.0 stars