My 2021's top 10 books: #9 Writing

Guillaume Hansali
Guillaume Hansali
My 2021's top 10 books: #9 Writing

For the longest time, writing was alien to me. I only wrote out of necessity, and it felt like a chore. I also felt tremendous pressure when I wrote at work as if words were exposing my vulnerabilities.

Around the same time last year, I decided that writing was a skill I needed to hone if I wanted to achieve one of my life objectives (that I may share someday).

I decided to voluntarily expose myself by showing my thoughts to the world (i.e., the few nice people graciously reading my prose) and started writing a blog. I quickly realized how demanding the writing process was and that my thoughts weren't as clear as I believed.

Fast forward to a year later and 20+ blog posts published, the process is still as painful as before, but I'm getting more efficient at it. I received incredible support from friends who reviewed and commented on my writing (special thanks to Marc, Stephan, and Pierre!), and I tried to study authors I liked and emulate (with variable degrees of success) their style.

I discovered today's book a couple of months ago, and it changed my perspective on writing. It has given me focus and confidence in my decisions as an apprentice writer. And I believe that it has made my prose clearer, simpler, and more concise. If you are into writing, it is a must-read.

On Writing Well, William Zinsser

Aspiring writers (myself included) tend to see eloquence and style as proof of their worth. They will flex their vocabulary muscle on any occasion.

They forget an essential part of the equation: the reader.

On Writing Well, William Zinsser (image from Amazon)

In On Writing Well, Zinsser distillates decades of teaching to help writers find their own voice without letting style undermine their message. For Zinsser, the essence of good writing is clarity, simplicity, brevity, and humanity.

We write to communicate thoughts. Our prose is the medium that connects us to our readers. Good prose successfully conveys ideas with accuracy and authenticity.

Bad prose is cluttered, unclear, unsure, unnecessary. Bad writing is a disservice to good thoughts.

Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident

Writing is a painful process, and nobody gets it right the first time. Or even the second time. The only way to write well is to rewrite, again and again, until you get to the point where rewriting won't make the message any clearer.

More than half of the words of a first draft are redundant. They don't contain additional information and clutter style. They must go quietly.

"Do not write any word that doesn't serve a purpose." <= too long

"Remove every word that is not necessary." <= not yet

"Omit needless words." <= there we go!

There's not much to be said about the period except that most writers don't reach it soon enough

Needlessly long sentences are a crime that I used to perpetrate. They are the symptom of unclear thoughts that need more attention. It is cognitively demanding to hold several ideas in mind at once. We shouldn't expect our readers to make that effort for us.

Writing is an act of ego, and you might as well admit it

Most importantly, writing has to be authentic. Writers don't sell the subject they are writing about; they sell who they are. Don't use words that don't talk to you, and don't try to be someone else. Readers want you to be you.

Writing is a very personal endeavor, and ultimately, nobody can decide for you the kind of writer you ought to be. But if you write prose, style shouldn't undermine your message, and more importantly, style shouldn't undermine you.

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