On Writing Well, by William Zinsser, is meant to compliment The Elements of Style by Stunk and White. In Zinsser's own words "The Elements of Style is a book of pointers and admonitions: do this, don't do that. What it didn't address was how to apply those principles to the various forms that nonfiction writing and journalism can take."
Although the book is organized in four parts, the content could really be summarized in two categories:
· Writing principals, methods, and attitudes
· Guidelines for specific forms of nonfiction, including travel, humor, business, sports, arts, memoirs, and family history.
Subjects addressed include: rewriting, craft vs. art, humanity and warmth, clutter, simplicity, finding a style, clichés, rhythm, unity, tone, and attitude. All of these are covered with the insight of a successful writer having decades of experience.
The author works some biographical information and experiences into the text, but the focus of the material is on writing well. Given that the first edition was in 1976, some of the examples and attitudes are dated, but they also add to the charm of the book.
No recaps or exercises are included at the end of the chapters, but an index is provided for easy reference.
As the subtitle indicates, the book is specifically directed at nonfiction writing, but many of the concepts also apply to fiction. With over a million copies sold, and in its thirtieth anniversary edition, much of the information has already been worked into other writing guides. As envisioned by Zinsser, On Writing Well compliments The Elements of Style. Together, they make a great combination.