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Wednesday Book Review: On Writing Well

On Writing Well

Title: On Writing Well

Author: William Zinsser

Genre: Non-fiction

Book procurement: Recommended by Angela Meadon.


On Writing Well has been praised for its sound advice, its clarity and the warmth of its style. It is a book for everybody who wants to learn how to write or who needs to do some writing to get through the day, as almost everybody does in the age of e-mail and the Internet. Whether you want to write about people or places, science and technology, business, sports, the arts or about yourself in the increasingly popular memoir genre, On Writing Well offers you fundamental priciples as well as the insights of a distinguished writer and teacher. With more than a million copies sold, this volume has stood the test of time and remains a valuable resource for writers and would-be writers.


As my first non-fiction book review, I have changed the review criteria accordingly but kept the basics, of course. I must say I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed reading this book and how influential it has been to my writing.

It is clear that William Zinsser enjoys writing. It comes out in his words and in his style of writing. He, in fact, follows the very advice he’s giving which makes taking the advice that much easier. There is even a section where he has gone back and revised this book and shows what the changes were and why.

“Examine every word you put on paper. You’ll find a surprising number that don’t serve any purpose.”

What I appreciated most about this book was the number of examples given, across different writing topics you will come across as a non-fiction writer. I think if I wasn’t employed as a Junior Technical Writer, I may have skipped this book simply because I don’t write non-fiction, but I would definitely recommend it whether you’re a non-fiction writer or not. There are some very relevant writing tips that I have applied across my writing.

“Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.”

There are numerous topics covered here, from writing a memoir to sports writing to writing about science and technology, and even writing humour. The first section is dedicated to improving writing in general, covering topics such as simplifying your work, removing clutter, understanding and finding your writing style, the words you use and what is the best usage for these words.

“Not every oak has to be gnarled.”

The writing style flows and is enjoyable on so many levels. It feels as though he is sitting with me or in a conference room, giving insight on the writing process. This conversational style of writing makes the book bearable and not feel like a textbook, which I highly appreciate. There’s nothing worse then the drudgery of reading a textbook you really want to enjoy but the writing puts you to sleep.

“One man’s romantic sunrise is another man’s hangover.”

Recommendation: Highly recommended for both fiction and non-fiction writers.


About Nthato Morakabi

Nthato Morakabi is a South African published author. He has short stories appearing in both international and local anthologies, and has published his first book, Beneath the Wax, which opens his three-part novella series "Wax". He is an avid reader, blogger and writer.

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