4 Things I Learned From William Zinsser’s On Writing Well

4 Things I Learned From William Zinsser’s On Writing Well

One of my rituals, before I write, is read a few chapters of William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. It’s one of my non-negotiables before I start writing or whenever I feel stuck. Or to pump my creative juices. The book always reminds me to “dejargonize” industry terms.

Through writing, I express my ideas to humans and NOT  to search engines. And though I’m living in the age of SEO and Latinate nouns such as implementation and utilization, I need to write like a human and for humans.

Here’s an excerpt from the Business Writing chapter.

“Actually a simple style is the result of hard work and hard thinking; a muddled style reflects a muddled thinker or a person too arrogant, or too dumb, or too lazy to organize his thoughts. Remember that what you write is often the only chance you’ll get to present yourself to someone whose business or money or good will you need.”

I’m trying to close the gap between the writer and the industry expert within. I have been challenging myself to apply Zinsser’s four tenets of good writing to my daily tasks, whether writing blogs, website copies, or social media captions.

#1 Clarity

When I don’t understand what I’m writing, I’d have to rewrite it and recite it to myself.

If it’s not clear to me, how can the reader understand it?

I like what Zinnser wrote, “If it’s not clear you might as well not write it. You might as well stay in bed.”

#2 Simplicity

Use words that are part of daily conversations. It’s easier said than done. It is hard to do it, especially when I’m writing about technology or explaining an integrated system of a platform.

But I realized that more syrupy words make me sound like an arrogant tech writer who only cares about myself rather than the reader.

A note to myself: “Stop trying to sound smart. Simple, succinct sentences make the reader smart.”

#3 Brevity

Avoid Latinate nouns. Use -ion sparingly. One to two syllables should be my best friends, and I should always write up to 20 words per sentence.

How can I make the reader’s life easy? Brevity is the key.

As Zinsser put it, “Don’t say anything in writing that you wouldn’t comfortably say in conversation. Writing is talking to someone else on paper or on a screen.”

#4 Humanity

It takes a lot of practice to “sound” and write like a human these days.

But that’s what makes writing fun and at the same time tedious and grueling at times (well, most of the time).

To be human in writing, whether online or on-print is to be myself, to find my unique voice and embrace it.

For seven years working as a freelance writer and copywriter, writing itself is a humbling profession where no one becomes a master.

Nobody becomes an expert in writing. Every author, every pro, and even Zinsser himself will tell us he will always be an apprentice in his craft.

Tonight, I am committed to striving for progress on writing well.

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