“WHO IS WILLIAM ZINSSER?” “SHOULD I CARE?” WRITERS [OF NONFICTION] MUST CARE

“I have four principles of writing good English.  They are Clarity, Simplicity, Brevity, and Humanity.”  –William Zinsser

ON WRITING WELL PIC

William Knowlton Zinsser: October 7, 1922 – May 12, 2015: American writer, editor, literary critic, and teacher.

On Writing Well, 1976: “…along with Strunk and White’s Elements of Style…a copy of this latest book by William Zinsser should be shelved in every library that houses ‘how-to’ books on non-fiction.  [He] is an expert, a practitioner, with ‘one lesson that writers must learn’: how to control their material.  And he does it well.  Simple.  Direct.  Uncluttered.  His purpose ‘is not to teach good nonfiction, or good journalism, but to teach good English that can be put to those uses.’  Recommended as a good textbook too.”  [from a CHOICE review, June ’76 by James F. O’Neil]

Zinsser was a graduate of Princeton University.

His 18 books include On Writing Well, which is in the seventh edition, revised and updated (2006), the “30th anniversary edition” which includes “Writing About Yourself: The Memoir” and “Writing Family History and Memoir.”   

Throughout the 1970s, Zinsser taught writing at Yale University.

On Writing Well is full of what might be called tips.  But that’s not the point of the book.  It’s a book of craft principles that add up to what it means to be a writer.”

“I always write to affirm–or, if I start negatively, deploring some situation or trend that strikes me as injurious, my goal is to arrive at a constructive point.”

“One of the saddest sentences I know is ‘I wish I had asked my mother about that.’”

Executive editor, Book-of-the-Month Club: 1979-1987.

“Writers are the custodians of memory.”

“Humanity.  Be yourself.  Never try in your writing to be someone you’re not.  Your product, finally, is you.  Don’t lose that person by putting on airs, trying to sound superior.”

“Re-writing is the essence of writing well: it’s where the game is won or lost.”

“…the storytelling business…is the oldest of narrative forms, going back to the caveman and the crib, endlessly riveting…all you have to do is tell a story, using the simple tools of the English language, and never losing your own humanity.”

“Repeat after me:
Short is better than long.
Simple is good.
Long Latin nouns are the enemy.
Anglo-Saxon active verbs are your best friend.
One thought per sentence.”

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william zinsser r. i. p. 5-12-2015

William Zinsser

 

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