On Writing Well Online
My writing principles
This is essay 2 of 6 for 1729 Writers Cohort #1. Apply to 1729 today.
I started this newsletter in October 2020. Since then, I’ve significantly improved my writing. Here’s how.
Less is More
On Writing Well by William Zinsser and The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. taught me that succinctness is power. So trim useless words, adjectives, adverbs, and even sentences. If you’re struggling with a sentence: delete it! Check this cheat sheet for cutting clutter.
“Omit Needless Words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. […] When a sentence is made stronger, it usually becomes shorter. Thus, brevity is a by-product of vigor.”—William Strunk Jr., The Elements of Style
“Examine every word you put on paper. You'll find a surprising number that don't serve any purpose. […] The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components.”―William Zinsser, On Writing Well
Cheat with Online Tools
As English isn’t my native language, I make many typos and grammar mistakes. Thankfully, Grammarly—a Ukrainian startup 🇺🇦— fixes them for me. If you haven’t read The Elements of Style, no worries, the Grammarly Premium version spots needless words for you. It makes your text more concise and, therefore, more powerful.
Let your Writing Speak for Yourself
Don’t explicitly say the message you want to convey: let the reader guess it. So don’t say “The scenery was beautiful,” but describe how beautiful it was.
“Instead of announcing what you are about to tell is interesting, make it so.”—William Strunk Jr., The Elements of Style
Fellow 1729er Coleman Foley recently noticed that my articles were more persuasive and engaging when I grounded them in my own experiences. It’s so true! I forgot that “Humanity” was one of Zinsser’s “four articles of faith.” So talk about people—whether you or others—and add humor! 😉
“Believe in your own identity and your own opinions. Proceed with confidence, generating it, if necessary, by pure willpower. Writing is an act of ego and you might as well admit it. Use its energy to keep yourself going.”―William Zinsser, On Writing Well
Leverage the Web
Online writing differs from print on one point: the web has hyperlinks. I love Wikipedia because there are blue links everywhere. You can browse from one subject to another and then randomly end up reading about “men of retirement age who spend their time watching construction sites.” 😅 According to a popular hypothesis, all Wikipedia pages are six or fewer links away from each other! I want to create similar serendipity in my content, so I add as many links as possible. I also use these links as sources: so don’t trust me; click and verify!
What are your tips for better writing?