On Writing Well
Updated: Mar 23
This book was a difficult read but resulted in some gems of advice. In fact, this book has the most takeaways of any on this site. I encourage you to dig deeper with the following links:
I have taken the best advice from the book and distilled it into 16 core principles:
Your best writing will often relate less to the subject than with its significance. It's not about what you did in a situation but how that situation affected you and shaped who you became.
"Every successful piece of nonfiction should leave the reader with one provocative thought". Decide on the one point you are trying to make.
Find a concept that connects with people. For example: A childhood game
What made your experience different from everyone else's? The reader doesn't want to hear that the grand canyon was amazing They want to hear if someone fell off the Grand Canyon or something out of the ordinary.
At the beginning, grab the reader using a provocative idea.
Readers can only process one idea at a time, in a linear passage. Therefore, each sentence should contain one thought.
Don't say something was fascinating. Describe how it was fascinating.
The last word of a sentence stays in the reader's ear and gives the sentence punch.
Reduce an abstract principle into an image that can be visualized.
Verbs are the most important tool of a writer. They provide momentum.
Use active verbs. "Joe saw him" is better than "He was seen by Joe"
Use precise verbs. The president "resign/retire/fired" vs "stepped down".
Strong verbs are weakened by unnecessary adverbs
Qualifiers dilute your style, persuasiveness and trust. Remove qualifiers related to: Your thinking/feelings/what you saw.
Sentences with concept nouns don't contain people and are strange as the reader can't visualize anybody
At the end, use a quote or bring the story full circle.
Let me know how these summaries. How can they be improved and what provides the most value? Contact me via Email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or on Twitter