Friday, January 15, 2010

William Zinsser, writing advice

William Zinsser offers writing advice to international students at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism:

Writing English as a Second Language (The American Scholar)

Useful for all students of writing.

comments: 5

Unknown said...

Excellent article. I read it straight through. Good advice, clear thinking, solid writing. See how much I learned? Thanks, Michael, for sharing.

T. said...

Zinsser's advice on writing is without parallel. His book On Writing Well has always been one of my favorites on the subject.

stefan said...

Thanks for posting Zinsser's article, Michael. I liked it a lot, and it got me wondering: many fine writers have offered similarly lovely arguments in favor of simplicity and straightforwardness--Orwell, Paul McHenry Roberts, E.B White, Michael Harvey and David Orr, to name only a few. Your own "How to Improve Your Writing" series often makes this case too. So why do you suppose that so many writers distrust or ignore Zinsser's great advice?

Elaine said...

This was a great read, and of course I like best the part that echoes advice I live by and have handed out: read good writers! (I think I've said this before somewhere in a Comment: Ernie Pyle was a prose master, still worth reading.)

The advice I gave our daughter's classmate--her ambition being to write--was this: don't major in "writing." Choose a substantive field and work hard on your degree. A writer's greatest need is something to write about.

Michael Leddy said...

Hi Mari and T. I just reread Zinsser — the latest edition of On Writing Well from the library — and was dazzled by the clarity of his writing. This piece seems like the best stuff in the book, for free.

Stefan, I suspect that some writers confuse pretension with profundity. I think that students are often under the spell of teachers who equate ponderous syntax, improbable vocabulary, and sheer length with good writing. It’s often very difficult to persuade such students that there are better ways of writing, and that clarity and simplicity are not matters of dumbing down.

Elaine, anyone who teaches a “composition” class knows the difficulty of developing content for it. Aboutness is everything. I’ll have to look at Ernie Pyle, whom I’ve never read.

[This comment replaces an earlier one with some embarrassingly careless typing.]