On Writing Well
On Writing Well

On Writing Well

Ultimately the product that any writer has to sell is not the subject being written about, but who he or she is. (Location 149)

Out of it come two of the most important qualities that this book will go in search of: humanity and warmth. (Location 153)

Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon. (Location 160)

Note: simplify your writing

But the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. (Location 167)

Clear thinking becomes clear writing; one can’t exist without the other. (Location 185)

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Note: Writing helps clarify your thoughts

Writers must therefore constantly ask: what am I trying to say? Surprisingly often they don’t know. (Location 201)

Most first drafts can be cut by 50 percent without losing any information or losing the author’s voice. (Location 279)

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Readers want the person who is talking to them to sound genuine. Therefore a fundamental rule is: be yourself. No rule, however, is harder to follow. It requires writers to do two things that by their metabolism are impossible. They must relax, and they must have confidence. (Location 318)

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Note: Be yourself, relax and have confidence

Sell yourself, and your subject will exert its own appeal. Believe in your own identity and your own opinions. Writing is an act of ego, and you might as well admit it. Use its energy to keep yourself going. (Location 383)

Soon after you confront the matter of preserving your identity, another question will occur to you: “Who am I writing for?” It’s a fundamental question, and it has a fundamental answer: 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. Don’t try to guess what sort of thing editors want to publish or what you think the country is in a mood to read. Editors and readers don’t know what they want to read until they read it. Besides, they’re always looking for something new. (Location 388)

Note: you are writing for yourself

Never say anything in writing that you wouldn’t comfortably say in conversation. If you’re not a person who says “indeed” or “moreover,” or who calls someone an individual (“he’s a fine individual”), please don’t write it. (Location 416)

Therefore ask yourself some basic questions before you start. For example: “In what capacity am I going to address the reader?” (Reporter? Provider of information? Average man or woman?) “What pronoun and tense am I going to use?” “What style?” (Impersonal reportorial? Personal but formal? Personal and casual?) “What attitude am I going to take toward the material?” (Involved? Detached? Judgmental? Ironic? Amused?) “How much do I want to cover?” “What one point do I want to make?” (Location 739)