Writing ‘On Writing Well’

William Zinsser—author of 17 books—talks in length on the trials and tribulations of writing ‘On Writing Well’.

My initial fear of immodesty was misguided. The best teachers of a craft, I saw, are their own best textbook. Students who take their classes really want to know how they do what they do—how they grew into their knowledge and learned from their wrong turns. Thereafter, in every edition, I wrote more revealingly, trusting my readers to trust me if I veered down some unlikely trail of anecdote to illustrate a point.

It now occurs to me that I didn’t really find my style until I wrote On Writing Well, at the late age of 52. Until then my style more probably reflected who I wanted to be perceived as—the urbane columnist and humorist and critic. Only when I started writing as a teacher and had no agenda except to be helpful did my style become integrated with my personality and my character.

via Arts and Letters Daily



3 responses to “Writing ‘On Writing Well’”

  1. What an interesting article. Lots of succinct gems.

    “As an editor I knew that almost anything can be cut to 300 words;”

    – How true!


  2. Andy — yes!

    I particularly liked this quote from Zinsser’s Wikipedia entry:

    In his books, Zinsser emphasizes word economy. Author James J. Kilpatrick, in his book The Writer’s Art says that if he were limited to just one book on how to write, it would be William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. Adds Kilpatrick, “Zinsser’s sound theory is that ‘writing improves in direct ratio to the number of things we can keep out of it.”

    On a similar note, in a tongue-in-cheek April Fools’ Day article from The Guardian (on how the paper is switching exclusively to Twitter “after 188 years of ink”) there’s the quote: “Experts say any story can be told in 140 characters”. A more extreme version of the same premise that made me chuckle.