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Favourite Quotes from "On Writing Well" [Part 2]

[fa icon="calendar"] 24-Aug-2012 08:33:00 / by Iliyana Stareva

Back to the subject of good writing, here’s the second part of my favourite quotes from each chapter of Zinsser's “On Writing Well” (check out part 1 here). One of the best advice the author gave encouraged me to keep on writing and helped me realise that I am making progress of becoming better at it: “... writing isn’t a skill that some people are born with and others aren’t, like a gift for art or music. Writing is talking to someone else on paper. Anybody who can think clearly can write clearly, about any subject at all.”

Chapter 13: Writing about Places: The Travel Article

“This is the essence of good writing about other countries. Distill the important from the immaterial... Beware of waxing. If you’re writing about places that are sacred or meaningful, leave the waxing to someone else.” 

Chapter 14: Writing about Yourself: The Memoir

“But on the question of who you’re writing for, don’t be eager to please. If you consciously write for a teacher or for an editor, you’ll end up not writing for anybody. If you write for yourself, you’ll reach the people you want to write for.”

“Memoir isn’t the summary of a life; it’s a window into a life, very much like a photograph in its selective composition.”

“The best gift you have to offer when you write personal history is the gift of yourself. Give yourself permission to write about yourself, and have a good time doing it.” 

Chapter 15: Science and Technology

“Nowhere else must you work so hard to write sentences that form a linear sequence. This is no place for fanciful leaps or implied truths. Fact and deduction are the ruling family.”

Chapter 16: Business Writing: Writing in Your Job

“Any organization that won’t take the trouble to be both clear and personal in its writing will lose friends, customers and money.”

“Too much vanity is on the line. Managers at every level are prisoners of the notion that a simple style reflects a simple mind. 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.”

“The way to warm up any institution is to locate the missing “I.” Remember: “I” is the most interesting element in any story.”

Chapter 17: Sports

"Look for this human bond. Remember that athletes are men and women who become part of our lives during the season, acting out our dreams of filling some other need for us, and we want that bond to be honoured. Hold the hype and give us heroes who are believable... Those are the values to look for when you write about sport: people and places, time and transition." 

Chapter 18: Writing about the Arts: Critics and Columnists

“… criticism at its best: stylish, allusive, disturbing. It disturbs us – as criticism often should – because it jogs a set of beliefs and forces us to reexamine them.”

“One lubricant in criticism is humor.” 

Chapter 19: Humor

“Humor is the secret weapon of the nonfiction writer. It’s secret because so few writers realize that humor is often their best tool – and sometimes their only tool – for making an important point.”

“Humor is not a separate organism that can survive on its own frail metabolism. It’s a special angle of vision granted to certain writers who already write good English.”

Chapter 20: The Sound of Your Voice

Don’t alter your voice to fit your subject. Develop one voice that readers will recognize when they hear it on the page, a voice that’s enjoyable not only in its musical line but in its avoidance of sounds that would cheapen its tone: breeziness and condescension and clichés.”

Chapter 21: Enjoyment, Fear and Confidence

"Living is the trick. Writers who write interestingly tend to be men and women who keep themselves interested." 

Chapter 22: The Tyranny of the Final Product

"Writing is related to character. If your values are sound, your writing will be sound. It all begins with intention. Figure out what you want to do and how you want to do it, and work your way with humanity and integrity to the completed article. Then you'll have something to sell."

Chapter 23: A Writer's Decisions

"Learning how to organize a long article is just as important as learning how to write a clear and pleasing sentence. All your clear and pleasing sentences will fall apart if you don't keep remembering that writing is linear and sequential, that logic is the glue that holds it together, that tension must be maintained from one sentence to the next and from one paragraph to the next and from one section to the next, and that narrative - good old-fashioned storytelling - is what should pull your readers along without their noticing the tug." 

Chapter 24: Write as Well as You Can

"Quality is its own reward."


Do you have a favourite Zinsser quote? 



Source: "On Writing Well" 25th anniversary edition 

Image courtesy of Simon Howden /


Topics: Writing

Iliyana Stareva

Written by Iliyana Stareva

Iliyana Stareva is the author of Inbound PR - the book that is transforming the PR industry. She's also a keynote speaker and a consultant in inbound and digital for fast-growing companies and agencies. Currently, Iliyana is Program Manager in the Chief of Staff office for CX EMEAR at Cisco where she is the operational leader for all things Customer Success. In her previous roles at HubSpot, she led major cross-functional change for the global Partner Program with her detail-oriented approach to project management and advised hundreds of agencies on how to transform their businesses with inbound and digital. During that time, she earned the globally recognised Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification by the PMI. In her free time, you can find Iliyana writing for her blog, dancing salsa or travelling the world.

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