On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, by William Zinsser

by Rebeca on March 14, 2010

On Writing Well, by William ZinsserOn Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
By William Zinsser
Collins Reference, 2001
308 pages

About four years ago, I took a fabulous writing class to break into magazines and newspapers at the New School in Manhattan taught by Sue Shapiro. Sue is a prolific writer: She’s written five memoirs, a novel, hundreds of book reviews, and thousands of essays.If you take her class, she’ll give you realistic assignments that possibly can lead to publication in major newspapers or magazines like The New York Times or Newsweek in the sections that publish essays. Most of the reading assignments are in those sections, Sue’s published articles, in addition to what I consider an important book–On Writing Well by William Zinsser.

When we were told this was required reading because it would answer all our questions of how to write nonfiction, I was skeptical. However, good student that I was, I ordered it on Amazon. As soon as the book arrived in the post, and I started reading, I was hooked.

Zinsser offers clear and to the point advice on sharpening your writing style. Divided into four parts, Zinsser kicks it off with writing principles. Chapters include: how to simplify your prose, develop a style, get to know your audience etc. Part two concentrates on writing methods: How to construct a lede and conclude your piece, how to make your story cohesive. Part three is about the different forms of nonfiction: intervews, travel, book reviews, sports, humor, science and technology and so forth. The last part is about attitudes and these chapters include the sound of your voice, decisions you make as a writer, writing as well as you can, and the emotions and phases all writers experience–enjoyment, fear, and confidence.

After On Writing Well, Zinsser published Writing to Learn and this book has also been invaluable to me. Once again, he teaches you how to write clearly about any subject and how to use writing as a means of learning.

For anyone who wants to write non-fiction, On Writing Well is a must have. Buy it, read it, and refer to it often. You won’t regret it


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