Although it is a guide and provides very comprehensive blueprint to write a great article there are some big ideas that Professor William tries to push throughout the book.
Here are the 10 big ideas from 'On writing well' by Professor William Zinsser that you can apply in your writing right away. Let’s dive right into it.
#1 Clutter is the disease of American writing:
Not just American writing clutter is an infection that has spread beyond global boundaries.
Everyone wants to sound important and thus incorporates words that serve no function.
As the author puts it,
“ The airline pilot who announces that he is presently anticipating experiencing considerable precipitation, wouldn’t think of saying it may rain.” And let’s face it we all are guilty of using words that steal away the very essence of a particular piece of writing.
The remedy: Strip away every sentence to its cleanest components.
#2 Simplify simplify:
If every word that you put on paper is not doing some new work then go and eliminate that word without a second thought. We hang on to some words because we think they're beautiful. Well simplicity is much beautiful than any kind of deliberate embroidery. It makes the whole piece look and sound cheap. Take the advice and simplify.
#3 Rewriting is the essence of writing:
The previous two points leads to this conclusion that Professor Zinsser stresses upon many times throughout this work. Eliminate the clutter simplify the sentence which means remove each and every word that serves no purpose or that is making the sentence ambiguous. After that rewrite and repeat till you are left with only 50% that you originally wrote, then do it once again.
#4 Writing is a craft, not an Art:
Many of us may have heard that famous piece of Charles Bukowski in which he says unless it comes out of your soul like a rocket, don't do it.
It might be true for him and his work which is indeed extraordinary but for the majority of writers out there, writing is a craft. A craft that you master by putting in daily work and effort.
Go and see it for yourself pick any writer’s early work and compare it to the work he produced 5-10 years after that. You will see the difference.
#5 When you deliberately garnish your prose you lose whatever it is that makes you unique:
You can’t add style deliberately it comes naturally. Readers are very smart beings they sense it if the writer is putting on airs. Readers want a person who is talking to them to sound genuine. How to do it?
Which is not very easy to do especially for a writer. Mr. Zinsser suggests to 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.
6# Right to please yourself:
This is for everyone out there who is struggling to find the target audience. I have struggled a lot not only in the writing but in everything creative whenever I try to write for others I fail miserably.
I believe it happens because I try to please so many people and I don’t know if they are going to read my piece or not still I do it. Whenever I try to please myself I sound more humane, original, relaxed and confident. In a nutshell, I sound myself.
Moreover, doing so solves the problem I talked about in idea #5.
7# Unity is the anchor of good writing:
Get your unities right. Here professor Zinsser not only refers to the unity of the idea upon which your whole piece is based but every bits and pieces that goes into your article. You can ask yourself some questions to get it right.
In what capacity am I going to address the reader?
(reporter/provider of information, average man around)
What is style am I going to use?
( Impersonal, reportorial, personal, formal, casual )
What attitude am I going to take to out the material?
(Involved, detached, judgmental, ironic, amused?)
These questions give a clear picture of the whole piece you want to write. With unity your article can become much more tight.
#8 Go with your interests:
Why am I writing this article?
Because I’m a bibliophile and a knowledge gatherer.
I can’t help but tell everybody what new I have learned.
Books interest me so I am writing about books and what’s inside them. This way I don’t find it boring or a tedious task to do. This is the point the author makes here.
Go with your interests, no area of life is stupid to someone who takes it seriously. You want to write about mustaches but find it stupid. Well it’s not for someone who digs the look and would like to grow one.
#9 The style is achieved by strenuous effort and constant refining:
Whenever you write something I imagine how would it sound to the person who reads it what sound or image it will create in reader's mind. I always end up imagining myself as a storyteller who is calm and confident the reader is having a connection with me as a storyteller and whenever he reads any of my writings, the topic may change entirely but the voice in his head won’t.
Many writers think that they just need to make a personal connection with the reader by
befriending him or her. In order to become the pal they just don’t care about the grammar or or style or the right words. And what emerges afterwords is a corny and Verbose piece of writing that is difficult to read.
You don’t want to be friend of the reader, you want to be YOU.
#10 Decide what you want to do, then decide to do it then do it:
As self explanatory as it may sound, this is the most difficult part of writing. Sometimes you don’t plan and sometimes you do the planning and not the execution
Sit down, pay attention to the ideas that Williams Zinsser has bestowed us with. Keep them in mind and then just write.