Tuesday, March 26, 2024

William Zinsser on Writing


Anyone who has ever had to write anything for anyone can gain something from these videos and the books they are drawn from.

Personally I have been through both of these journeys — to write well, and writing to learn — separately from these books.

Writing to learn, I discovered quite by accident, is the best reason to write, at least for me. Now I write to amuse and inform myself, I write to learn by researching and tying threads together, and I write to organize thoughts and test my own assumptions about a topic. It’s quite energizing and I feel like I understand a little bit more around the world around me every day.

You have to understand a topic to write clearly about it. If you find you have trouble writing about it, you probably don’t understand it well enough quite yet. That means go back and learn more, and then come back to the writing.

Of course a secondary goal is to entertain readers enough that they want to come back next time. But I find that, for me, if I flip the goals around and make that the primary goal, the magic goes out of it.

Writing to Learn

Top notch advice, all of that.

Then there’s the one thing every single human wishes they could do better: write well.

Believe it or not, everyone can become a much better writer by following some rules and being disciplined about cutting out unnecessary words. Use active voice and present tense. Eliminate long words when short ones will do. Etc.

Clarity is king.

It’s more of a craft than an art, and that means everyone can learn enough to be better.

Only prodigies can sit down and just write once and be done with it. Jack Kerouac famously did that with “On the Road”, writing the whole thing on a single sheet of rolled up paper. Put that out of your mind; it does not work like that.

Here’s how it does work. On Writing Well.

I have not read either of these books, but know the concepts within them very well.