William Zinsser died this month at the age of 92, at home, in his own bed, in his sleep. Does it get much better than that?
Mr. Zinsser wrote 19 books. His most famous, On Writing Well, sold a million-and-a half copies, with the 30th anniversary edition issued in 2006. Mr. Zinsser’s clear, concise advice is for everyone. Here, in no particular order, are a few gems:
- Keep it short and don’t use jargon.
- Read everything you write out loud.
- Verbs are the strongest tools a writer has.
- Take the mush out of concept nouns; instead use active verbs.
- Passive verbs have no energy or precision; use active verbs.
- Leave the reader thinking that you had fun while writing.
- Be humble.
And perhaps the best:
- There’s not much to be said about the period, except that most writers don’t reach it soon enough.
Mr. Zinsser thought that one of the saddest things he encountered were people wishing they had asked their parents about their history. He advises us to interview parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Record the past by writing your family history. It’s important work and great practice whether anyone sees it or not. “You’re not required to tell everybody’s story. You only need to tell your story. If you give an honest accounting of the important people and events in your life, as best you remember them, you will also tell the story of everybody who needs to be along on the ride.” As tribute to Mr. Zinsser, The American Scholar has republished Mr. Zinsser’s “How to Write a Memoir.”
Read more here from the WSJ’s “Notable & Quotable” on William Zinsser who, in On Writing Well, advises the reader to say what’s on his mind with simplicity and clarity. And with brevity. “Writing improves in direct ratio to the number of things we can keep out of it that shouldn’t be there.”