William Zinsser

Literary Birthday – 7 October – William Zinsser

William Zinsser was born 7 October 1922 and died 12 May 2015.

Quotes On Writing

  1. Writing is a craft not an art.
  2. Write about small, self-contained incidents that are still vivid in your memory. If you remember them, it’s because they contain a larger truth that your readers will recognise in their own lives. Think small and you’ll wind up finding the big themes in your family saga.
  3. Just because people work for an institution, they don’t have to write like one. Institutions can be warmed up. Administrators can be turned into human beings. Information can be imparted clearly and without pomposity.
  4. Beware of all the slippery new fad words: paradigm and parameter, prioritise and potentialise. They are all weeds that will smother what you write. Don’t dialogue with someone you can talk to. Don’t interface with anybody.
  5. Examine every word you put on paper. You’ll find a surprising number that don’t serve any purpose.
  6. Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.
  7. Nothing has replaced the writer. He or she is still stuck with the same old job of saying something that other people will want to read.
  8. Nobody told all the computer writers that the essence of writing is rewriting.
  9. Clear thinking becomes clear writing; one can’t exist without the other.
  10. The reader will notice if you are putting on airs. Readers want the person who is talking to them to sound genuine. Therefore a fundamental rule is: be yourself.
  11. Never say anything in writing that you wouldn’t comfortably say in conversation. If you’re not a person who says, ‘indeed’ or ‘moreover’, or who calls someone an individual (‘he’s a fine individual’), please don’t write it.
  12. You learn to write by writing.
  13. Rewriting is the essence of writing well: it’s where the game is won or lost.
  14. Many people assume that professional writers don’t need to rewrite; the words just fall in place. On the contrary, careful writers can’t stop fiddling.
  15. Writers must therefore constantly ask: what am I trying to say? Surprisingly often they don’t know.
  16. The minute you try to think about what people want, you’re dead. There’s no law that says you have to keep 100% of your readers enthralled.

William Zinsser was an American writer, editor, literary critic, and teacher. He is best known for his classic non-fiction book, On Writing Well.

Source for Image

Author’s website


by Amanda Patterson

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Posted on: 7th October 2013

0 thoughts on “Literary Birthday – 7 October – William Zinsser”

  1. Thank you for posting this tribute and Bill’s words. He was a gift to writers and all the readers who benefited from Zinsser’s teachings and his generous heart. I’m so grateful he existed and that his spirit continues to flow through our reading and writing. He taught me more than I knew.