@amit's notes

On Writing Well




Good writing has an aliveness that keeps the reader reading from one paragraph to the next, and it’s not a question of gimmicks to “personalize” the author. It’s a question of using the English language in a way that will achieve the greatest clarity and strength. (Location 159)

But the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. (Location 172)

A writer will do anything to avoid the act of writing. (Location 333)

we have become a society fearful of revealing who we are. (Location 367)

Believe in your own identity and your own opinions. Writing is an act of ego, and you might as well admit it. Use its energy to keep yourself going. (Location 392)

Remember that words are the only tools you’ve got. Learn to use them with originality and care. And also remember: somebody out there is listening. (Location 577)

Most writers sow adjectives almost unconsciously into the soil of their prose to make it more lush and pretty, and the sentences become longer and longer as they fill up with stately elms and frisky kittens and hard-bitten detectives and sleepy lagoons. This is adjective-by-habit—a habit you should get rid of. (Location 1023)

The adjective that exists solely as decoration is a self-indulgence for the writer and a burden for the reader. (Location 1026)

Prune out the small words that qualify how you feel and how you think and what you saw: “a bit,” “a little,” “sort of,” “kind of,” “rather,” “quite,” “very,” “too,” “pretty much,” “in a sense” and dozens more. They dilute your style and your persuasiveness. (Location 1031)

Good writing is lean and confident. (Location 1035)

Every little qualifier whittles away some fraction of the reader’s trust. Readers want a writer who believes in himself and in what he is saying. Don’t diminish that belief. Don’t be kind of bold. Be bold. (Location 1039)

Humor is best achieved by understatement, and there’s nothing subtle about an exclamation point. (Location 1057)

Don’t start a sentence with “however”—it hangs there like a wet dishrag. And don’t end with “however”—by that time it has lost its howeverness. (Location 1084)

Life has more than enough truly horrible funny situations. Let the humor sneak up so we hardly hear it coming. (Location 1146)

Don’t inflate an incident to make it more outlandish than it actually was. If the reader catches you in just one bogus statement that you are trying to pass off as true, everything you write thereafter will be suspect. It’s too great a risk, and not worth taking. (Location 1148)

The ear makes allowances for missing grammar, syntax and transitions that the eye wouldn’t tolerate in print. The seemingly simple use of a tape recorder isn’t simple; infinite stitchery is required. (Location 1550)

What could be luckier for a nonfiction writer than to live in America? The country is unendingly various and surprising. Whether the locale you write about is urban or rural, east or west, every place has a look, a population and a set of cultural assumptions unlike any other place. Find those distinctive traits. (Location 1798)

Unlike autobiography, which spans an entire life, memoir assumes the life and ignores most of it. (Location 1977)

human brain—that incredible three-pound package of tissue (Location 2213)

The writer must find some comic device—satire, parody, irony, lampoon, nonsense—that he can use to disguise his serious point. (Location 3047)

“I’m here and I’m involved”: make that your creed if you want to write serious humor. Humorists operate on a deeper current than most people suspect. They must be willing to go against the grain, to say what the populace and the President may not want to hear. (Location 3105)

Humor is a by-product that occurs in the serious work of some and not others. (Location 3122)

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On Writing Well