My first copy was the ‘Third Edition: Revised and Enlarged’ edition, and it’s somewhat dog-eared now from so many years of use and being leant out.
It even had a helpful section called ‘Writing – and rewriting – with a Word Processor’. Ahh, word pricessors, those new-fangled things on them fancy computers.
Yes, I’m almost embarrassed to say it was that long ago.
The book’s currently on its ’30th Anniversary Edition’, which suggests Zinsser’s doing something right.
The most valuable part about On Writing Well is that it strongly promotes simplicity and keeping things clear and concise. Zinsser argues there’s no room for wordiness – and he shows you how to achieve clear and accurate text with a range of examples.
Although designed with non-fiction in mind, the book is for anyone who wants to write, and any fiction writer will benefit from reading it.
The book is broken into four parts – Principles, Methods, Forms and Attitudes, but it’s Principles and Methods that give the book its value.
For example, the topic on Simplicity begins with: “Clutter is the Disease of American Writing.”
Of course, the problem isn’t limited to just America, but the entire English language.
The paragraph finishes with: “We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless Jargon.”
What was true thirty-odd years ago holds true today.
If you want to get the basics right, On Writing Well is the book you need.