Matthew Miner

On On Writing Well

Recently I read On Writing Well, which, you guessed it, imparts advice on writing well. Something about this sort of book tickles my fancy. If you’re one of those nuts who enjoys Strunk & White, you’ll dig this one too.

Even if you find matters of syntax and sentence structure a bore, you might still enjoy On Writing Well. Zinsser isn’t a grammar Nazi who gets his rocks off expounding the proper usage of “who” vs. “whom”.1 Instead he provides examples of good writing, chapters that focus on specific genres of non-fiction, and tips to improve your own drivel.

Take this wisdom for example:

Prune out the small words that qualify how you feel and how you think and what you saw: “a bit,” “a little,” “sort of,” “kind of,” “rather,” “quite,” “very,” “too,” “pretty much,” “in a sense” and dozens more. They dilute your style and your persuasiveness.

Don’t say you were a bit confused and sort of tired and a little depressed and somewhat annoyed. Be confused. Be tired. Be depressed. Be annoyed. Don’t hedge your prose with little timidities. Good writing is lean and confident.

The number of times I’ve written “pretty much” is criminal.

I can’t guarantee my writing will improve drastically — Zinsser would certainly have recommended I axe “tickles my fancy,” yet there it is — but reading about writing always motivates me to write more, and that memoir ain’t gonna pen itself.

  1. Honestly, I have yet to master this nuance. I’ve read this guide to who vs. whom a dozen times but it never sticks.