William Zinsser, author of the classic book On Writing Well, died this week. I have recommended his book more often and sold more copies of it than any other of many excellent options. The first hundred pages are a must for anyone writing non-fiction of any kind.
his book are best known for his advice to cut the clutter. As he says, “Fighting clutter is like fighting weeds–the writer is always slightly behind” (p. 13). I have a perverse pleasure in slashing all such excess when I’m copyediting. But I am happier still when I don’t have to because a writer has already done it.
Rewriting is not the message many want to hear. But it is the message almost all of us need. Zinsser offers the inspiration and practical advice that will improve any writer’s work.
He also explains why we should not pay attention to what others think about our writing while at the same time being very concerned. We shouldn’t care about topic. If it interests us, that’s all that matters. But we should care about style. “The reader is an impatient bird, perched on the thin edge of distraction or sleep” (pp. 26-27, 5th ed.). Lose your discipline and you lose your reader.
We’ve lost a great advocate for clear, compelling prose. His message remains.