How to Improve Your Writing

William Zinsser’s Writing Tips, and My Responses to Them.

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For the past several weeks, Shaunta Grimes has been writing stories providing tidbits from authors about different aspects of writing. She’s also been trying out different authors’ writing rituals. I thought the first was a great idea, and did some research on tips and/or rituals from one of my favorite authors, William Zinsser. I’ve read three of his books in the past few months: On Writing Well, Writing Places, and I most recently finished Writing to Learn. Of these, On Writing Well was the biggest help to me as a writer. As I researched what he had to say about writing and his writing rituals, I came across an article that provided 10 tips. I wanted to share those tips with you:

Don’t make lazy word choices.

I have to admit, I’m guilty of this one. I’m so used to writing articles or blog posts for the Internet, I’ve gotten to used to using simple language. Yes, as Dave Schools suggests, I’ve joined a word of the day word list so I can expand my vocabulary. But I have to admit, I hardly ever use the words emailed to me. I need to find ways to incorporate them into my daily writing. I love what William Zinsser has to say about this:

“You’ll never make your mark as a writer unless you develop a respect for words and a curiosity about their shades of meaning that is almost obsessive. The English language is rich in strong and supple words. Take the time to root around and find the ones you want.”

On the other hand, avoid jargon and big words.

Ok, when I read this one, I almost thought he was contradicting himself. As I thought about it though, I realized what he's saying is to find a balance somewhere in between. I love what he has to say about this:

“Clear thinking becomes clear writing; one can’t exist without the other. It’s impossible for a muddy thinker to write good English.”

Writing is hard work.

Yes, I’ll agree with this one! Maybe the act of typing the words on the page isn’t hard, but as he says

“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.”

Write in the first person.

Yay, someone else who doesn’t think the first person is the devil! It seems like most of the blog posts I write are in the second or third person. I need to start writing for myself. And I love his philosophy about this:

“Writing is an intimate transaction between two people, conducted on paper, and it will go well to the extent that it retains its humanity.”

And the more you keep in first person and true to yourself, the sooner you will find your style.

Excellent advice, I like this guy! I know I definitely need to start writing more in my style, and not someone else’s. And I really like the last sentence in this quote:

“Sell yourself, and your subject will exert its own appeal. Believe in your own identity and your own opinions. Writing is an act of ego, and you might as well admit it.”

Don’t ask who your audience is…you are the audience.

I wish that was true Will, but most of the time the audience is whichever blog I happen to be writing for. But I do like what you say next:

“You are writing primarily to please yourself, and if you go about it with enjoyment you will also entertain the readers who are worth writing for.”

Now I like this statement. I may have to apply this to the ghost writing I do.

Study the masters but also your contemporaries.

Excellent advice, and something I’m already doing. After all, I’ve read a few of your books, and I read and writing widely on Medium. And I agree completely with your next statement:

“Writing is learned by imitation. If anyone asked me how I learned to write, I’d say I learned by reading the men and women who were doing the kind of writing I wanted to do and trying to figure out how they did it.”

Yes, the thesaurus is your friend.

“The Thesaurus is to the writer what a rhyming dictionary is to the songwriter — a reminder of all the choices — and you should use it with gratitude.”

Yes, I’m very grateful for the thesaurus — it’s helped me out of many jams when I haven’t been able to come up with a stronger word for a word or phrase I’m trying to improve.

If, having found the scalawag and the scapegrace, you want to know how they differ, then go to the dictionary.”

Yes, I use this wonderful book sometimes too.

Read everything you write out loud for rhythm and sound.

I very rarely do this — I write mostly in my head, and try to stay true to the rules for whatever client I’m writing for.

“Good writers of prose must be part poet, always listening to what they write.”

Excellent advice.

Don’t ever believe you are going to write anything definitive.

“Decide what corner of your subject you’re going to bite off, and be content to cover it well and stop.”

Excellent advice. Sometimes I think I could write all day on certain topics. It’s hard for me to do, but I try to limit myself to the scope of the article or blog post I’m writing, and save the rest of what I want to say for another article, or even a Medium post.

Anyone who writes to teach, like William Zinsser did, and like I’m trying to do, would do well to read his books, or at the very least, the article I got these bits of advice from. I’m going to apply them to my writing on Medium, as well as the writing I do for my websites and for other writing sites, and see what happens.

If you enjoyed this article I’d love to hear your feedback! Please feel free to comment or give it a clap.

I started writing in elementary school and never stopped. I enjoy sharing stories about my hard-learned life lessons and writing advice.

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