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May 1 / King Kaufman

Writing guru William Zinsser profiled in the N.Y. Times

You can squeeze some practical writing advice out of this profile of author and writing teacher William Zinsser in the New York Times, but it’s such a lovely portrait that you might become a better writer just by reading it.

Zinsser is the author of the classic “On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction.” Now 90, retired and blind from glaucoma, “he is still teaching at 90,” writes Dan Barry, “holding one-on-one counseling sessions for accomplished and aspiring writers.”

You ever try to write a story about a legendary writing teacher? It’s intimidating, as Barry notes with a quote from “On Writing Well”:

“Clutter is the disease of American writing,” he declared in one passage that tends to haunt anyone daring to write about Mr. Zinsser. “We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.”

Unable to read the work of the writers he’s helping, Zinsser has them read to him. He listens. “People read with their ears, whether they know it or not,” he tells Barry.

Plenty to learn there. And here’s one more chance:

He tries to help them organize their thoughts by condensing, reducing—learning what not to include.

“By talking to them, by finding out who they are, I bring out their own personality,” he says. “And ease their mind, for God’s sake.”

Got that? Now you can be your own writing coach.

  • Randy Chambers

    Great post. Avodiing clutter and removing unnecessary words is something I have been working on relentlessly.