On Writing Well is more of a collection of advice from someone who spent his entire life writing nonfiction than a practical how-to guide on how to write nonfiction.
It still contains some how-to guidance, but most is obvious—I’m sure many experienced writers already know it.
The book tells you to cut unnecessary words in your writing, but this book actually contains more fluff than substance. I’m sure it could be written in a blog post rather than a full book.
This book is full of examples and explanations which in my opinion waste the reader’s time.
Despite the excess, I still found some lessons when you want to write nonfiction:
- The essence of good writing is rewriting.
- Writing is not easy, nor fun, and it’s lonely; sometimes the words won’t flow.
- Don’t bother about writing style—be yourself, be authentic. Style will come if you consistently write.
- Write primarily for yourself, don’t bother with reader expectations. If you write interestingly, they will come.
- You get better at writing by doing it. Make writing a habit.
- Be concise. Use active, precise verbs. Most adverbs and adjectives are unnecessary and may weaken the verbs. Keep paragraphs short.
- Don’t over-explain or state common knowledge.
This book was written before the internet was as massive as today and AI models were not yet actively developed, so I can say it’s not suitable for this era.
If you need guidance on how to write nonfiction, I suggest you read Writing Better, which is more concise, straightforward, and relevant today.