Book Review: On Writing Well, by William Zinsser

Book Review: On Writing Well, by William Zinsser

As a part of our required readings for the social media writing class at Quinnipiac, we were required to purchase and read On Writing Well, by William Zinsser. This was a terrific book.

On Writing Well covers a multitude of issues that writers can face. Zinsser gives writers the freedom to occasionally break some rules, or at least to bend them. Moreover, he gives reasons why one type of construction might work better than another.

William Zinsser
On Writing Well by William Zinsser

What’s Important

For Zinsser, the start and the end pack heavy punches. On Page 54, he writes,

“The most important sentence in any article is the first one. If it doesn’t induce the reader to proceed to the second sentence, your article is dead. And if the second sentence doesn’t induce him to continue to the third sentence, it’s equally dead. Of such a progression of sentences, each tugging the reader forward until he’s hooked, a writer constructs that fateful unit, the ‘lead’.”

Not only is this good advice for fiction writing, it’s excellent for report writing and for writing for the web. How many times have we had to slog through a ton of prose before getting to the good stuff? How many times have we tried to hang in there when we’d rather be doing anything but tackling an opaque garbage can full of prose?

Active Versus Passive Tense

Many writers are told to prefer active to passive tense when writing. Zinsser explains why, on Page 67,

“Use active verbs unless there is no comfortable way to get around using a passive verb. The difference between an active-verb style and a passive-verb style – in clarity and vigor – is the difference between life and death for a writer.”

A little over the top, maybe, but it does get the point across.

Don’t dance around your subject. Be bold. Be clear. Be terse.

Review: 5/5 stars.