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20 Inspiring Quotes From William Zinsser's "On Writing Well"

  2. "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...these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence." WILLIAM ZINSSER "ON WRITING WELL" (p7)
  3. "Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it's because it is hard." WILLIAM ZINSSER "ON WRITING WELL" (p9)
  4. "Writers are obviously at their most natural when they write in the first person. Writing is an intimate transaction between two people, conducted on paper, and it will go well to the extent that it retains its humanity." WILLIAM ZINSSER "ON WRITING WELL" (p20)
  5. "Writing is learned by imitation. If anyone asked me how I learned to write, I'd say I learned by reading the men and women who were doing the kind of writing I wanted to do and trying to figure out how they did it." WILLIAM ZINSSER "ON WRITING WELL" (p34)
  6. "Also bear in mind, when you're choosing your words and stringing them together, how they sound. This may seem absurd: readers read with their eyes. But in fact they hear what they are reading far more than you realize." WILLIAM ZINSSER "ON WRITING WELL" (p35)
  7. "You learn to write by writing. It's a truism, but what makes it a truism is that it's true. The only way to learn to write is to force yourself to produce a certain amount of words on a regular basis." WILLIAM ZINSSER "ON WRITING WELL" (p49)
  8. "Every successful piece of nonfiction should leave the reader with one provocative thought that he or she didn't have before. Not two thoughts, or five - just one. So decide what single point you want to leave in the reader's mind." WILLIAM ZINSSER "ON WRITING WELL" (p52)
  9. "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." WILLIAM ZINSSER "ON WRITING WELL" (p54)
  10. "When you're ready to stop, stop. If you have presented all the facts and made the point you want to make, look for the nearest exit." WILLIAM ZINSSER "ON WRITING WELL" (p64)
  11. "Many writers are paralyzed by the thought that they are competing with everybody else who is trying to write and presumably doing it better... Forget the competition and go at your own pace. Your only contest is with yourself." WILLIAM ZINSSER "ON WRITING WELL" (p77)
  12. "Rewriting is the essence of writing well: it's where the game is won or lost. That idea is hard to accept. We all have an emotional equity in our first draft; we can't believe that it wasn't born perfect. But the odds are close to 100 percent that it wasn't." WILLIAM ZINSSER "ON WRITING WELL" (p83)
  13. "There's no subject you don't have permission to write about. Students often avoid subjects close to their heart...because they assume that their teachers will regard those topics as 'stupid.' No area of life is stupid to someone who takes it seriously. If you follow your affections you will write well and will engage your readers." WILLIAM ZINSSER "ON WRITING WELL" (p91)
  14. "Get people talking. Learn to ask questions that will elicit answers about what is most interesting or vivid in their lives. Nothing so animates writing as someone telling what he thinks or what he does - in his own words. His own words will always be better than your words, even if you are the most elegant stylist in the land." WILLIAM ZINSSER "ON WRITING WELL" (p100)
  15. "My commodity as a writer, whatever I'm writing about, is me. And your commodity is you. Don't alter your voice to fit your subject. Develop one voice that readers will recognise when they hear it on the page." WILLIAM ZINSSER "ON WRITING WELL" (p231)
  16. "But ultimately eloquence runs on a deeper current. It moves us with what it leaves unsaid, touching off echoes in what we already know from our reading, our religion and our heritage...It was no accident that Lincoln's speeches resounded with echoes of the King James Bible; he knew it almost by heart from his boyhood." WILLIAM ZINSSER "ON WRITING WELL" (p238)
  17. "Writing is such lonely work that I try to keep myself cheered up. If something strikes me as funny in the act of writing, I throw it in just to amuse myself. If I think it's funny I assume a few other people will find it funny, and that seems to me to be a good day's work." WILLIAM ZINSSER "ON WRITING WELL" (p242)
  18. "All your clear and pleasing sentences will fall apart if you don't keep remembering that writing is linear and sequential, that logic is the glue that holds it together, that tension must be maintained from one sentence to the next and from one paragraph to the next and from one section to the next, and that narrative - good old-fashioned storytelling - is what should pull your readers along without their noticing the tug." WILLIAM ZINSSER "ON WRITING WELL" (p261)
  19. "Think small. Don't rummage around in your past - or your family's past - to find episodes that you think are 'important' enough to be worthy of including in your memoir. Look for small self-contained incidents that are still vivid in your memory. If you still remember them it's because they contain a universal truth that your readers will recognise from their own life." WILLIAM ZINSSER "ON WRITING WELL" (p291)
  20. "You must find some way to elevate your act of writing into an entertainment. Usually this means giving the reader an enjoyable surprise. Any number of devices will do the job...These seeming amusements in fact become your 'style.' When we say we like the style of certain writers, what we mean is that we like their personality as they express it on paper." WILLIAM ZINSSER "ON WRITING WELL" (p297)
  21. "If you would like to write better than everybody else, you have to want to write better than everybody else. You must take an obsessive pride in the smallest details of your craft. And you must be willing to defend what you've written against the various middlemen - editors, agents and publishers - whose sights may be different from yours, whose standards not so high." WILLIAM ZINSSER "ON WRITING WELL" (p298)