Monday, September 21, 2009

On Writing Well

Have you experienced the calm that follows reading great writers? It works better than most headache medicines. It soothes the soul to allow beautiful passages to seep in.

I've been reading On Writing Well by William Zinsser, and quickly discovered that the book is amazing. Never before have I paid so much attention to words and phrases. Even skimming will make you a better writer.

Take, for instance, his advice on style:
"First, then, learn to hammer the nails, and if what you build is sturdy and serviceable, take satisfaction in its plain strength."
There is great wisdom in the carpentry metaphor. Writing is a utilitarian act - it must be functional above all else. The most beautiful chair in the world is no good if you can't sit on it. Strip down to the essential. Those who excessively employ "big words" usually do so out of anxiety, not confidence. Only after you build the framework can you add ornament. Style takes a lifetime to develop.

I'll close with two of my favorite quotes (so far) of the book:

"Telling a writer to relax is like telling a man to relax while being examined for a hernia"

"You are writing for yourself. Don't try to visualize the great mass audience. There is no such audience - every reader is a different person."

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