Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Tribute to William Zinser

William Zinser is my hero. He is, or should be, every writer’s hero. He is best known for his seminal book, On Writing Well, now in its 30th anniversary edition. That means he wrote it in 1976, and it is not only still relevant, it’s the gold standard. His book on Writing About Your Life should be, required reading for anyone who wants to write a memoir.

I read On Writing Well when it first came out, consulted it many times over the years, and am rereading it, once again with a yellow highlighter. Then, I’m taking notes on the most compelling sentences in each chapter—the essence of good writing. I want to write a dozen blogs filled with Zinsser’s amazing quotes, such as this one: “Clear thinking becomes clear writing; one can’t exist without the other.” That is so basic, so right! Each time I read that sentence, I am struck by its stripped down wisdom.

William Zinsser knows how to write well. He has spent his life honing his craft and teaching it to others. He is writer, an editor, and a teacher. He was a journalist with the New York Herald Tribune and a contributor to many prestigious magazines. He has written seventeen books, taught at Yale, the New School in New York, and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

It is hard to explain how he has influenced my own writing. In this brief blog post, I have cut out words, rewritten whole sentences, hit the thesaurus for better words to make certain points, and played editor to my own prose. Mr. Zinsser has made it impossible for me to dash off a blog post, an e-mail, or any piece of writing. He is always hovering at my shoulder, urging me to do my best writing. I know I am not alone. This man has made more writers than he will ever know.