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Ten Tips to Make you a More Confident and Convincing Writer

No fluff, no guff — just ten short pearls of wisdom from On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser

Share a little bit of yourself

“Ultimately the product that any writer has to sell is not the subject being written about, but who he or she is…This is the personal transaction that’s at the heart of good non-fiction writing. Out of it comes the two most important qualities…humanity and warmth.”

Narrow your focus

“Every writing project must be reduced before you start to write. Therefore think small. Decide what corner of your subject you’re going to bite off, be content to cover it well and stop.”

Start strong

“Readers want to know — very soon — what’s in it for them. Therefore, your lead must capture the reader immediately and force him to keep reading.

Write shorter sentences

“Readers can process only one idea at a time, and they do it in a linear sequence.
What do your readers want to know next?
Ask yourself that question after every sentence.
Much of the trouble that writers get into comes from trying to make one sentence do too much work.
Never be afraid to break a long sentence into two short ones, or even three.”

The power of paragraphs

“Every paragraph should amplify the one that preceded it.
Keep your paragraphs short.
Writing is visual — it catches the eye before it has a chance to catch the brain.
Short paragraphs put air around what you write and make it look inviting, whereas a long chunk of type can discourage a reader from even starting to read.”

Cut the clutter

“Writing improves in direct ratio to the number of things we can keep out of it that shouldn’t be there.
Examine every word you put on paper.
You’ll find a surprising number that don’t serve any purpose.”

Say what you mean

“Prune out the small words that qualify how you feel and how you think and what you saw: “a bit”, “a little”, “sort of”, “rather”, “quite”, “very”, “too”, “pretty much”, “in a sense”, and dozens more.

“Don’t say you were a ‘bit confused’ and ‘sort of tired’ and ‘a little depressed’ and ‘somewhat annoyed’.
Be confused.
Be tired.
Be depressed.
Be annoyed.
Good writing is lean and confident.”

Make a graceful exit

“When you’re ready to stop, stop.
If you have presented all the facts and made the point you want to make, look for the nearest exit.”

If at first you don’t succeed…try, try again

“Rewriting is the essence of writing well: it’s where the game is won or lost.
Most writers don’t initially say what they want to say, or say it as well as they could.
Clear writing is the result of a lot of tinkering.”

You can do this

“Writing is thinking on paper.
Anyone who thinks clearly can write clearly, about anything at all.”

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