I wrote about the death of William Zinsser last week and would now like to include a few quotations from his wonderful book, On Writing Well.
“Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.”
“Clear thinking becomes clear writing. One can’t exist without the other.”
“Few people realize how badly they write…. The point is that you have to strip down your writing before you can build it back up.”
Zinsser worked for a newspaper, wrote for prominent magazines, taught in the English Department at Yale, and authored many books. As a writer and teacher, he made an indelible mark. I hope he was happy about that fact; he deserved to be. Do I recommend this book? Is the pope…?
I have recommended this book by William Zinsser, a retired Yale English professor, for decades; it is as pertinent today as when it first was published in 1976.
The book extolls clear, concise writing. Zinsser wrote, “Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.”
Those critical words describe much of what we read today, most especially what is churned out in the corporate world in an effort to appear “professional.”
Today Zinsser is 90 and blind from glaucoma, but he still coaches others by listening to them read their works in progress in his Manhattan apartment. Accurately, Zinsser says, “People read with their ears, whether they know it or not.”
Yes! I have always encouraged people to read their writing out loud. When we read silently, we read what we think we wrote, not what we actually did write. Hearing our voices provides an entirely different experience: we are much more likely to discover not only typos but also infelicitous phrases and parts that simply do not work.
If you can’t schedule a session with William Zinsser, book one with yourself and read your writing out loud (a quiet voice is all you need) and see if it doesn’t help you.
Now excuse me while I read this post out loud.