I have to admit thatI had never really come across William Zinsser until yesterday. Unfortunately the reason for my discovery was because of his death on May 12th aged 92. (see
I read the BBC report on his life and decided to look at what many consider his masterwork “On Writing Well” which is a master coach’s advice on how to put pen to paper or better still use a word-processor which he loved and championed later in his life.
This story that I am now writing would no doubt have been scrutinised by the master for economy of language, for care not to use too many buzz-words and for personalisation.
He was very much someone who believed in writing as a craft and felt that every piece of writing needed to be kept simple and personal. He stated that you write specifically or yourself and that it is up to your audience to appreciate your efforts. Do not pander to what you think your audience wants to see but what you want to tell them.
What I want to tell you is that, as a subscriber to Scribd, I was able to access the audio book of “On Writing Well”. I sat back in my comfortable chair and heard the soft tones of the author himself reading his book.I found myself thinking, as he read, of the other pieces that I had written (over 600 of them!) in this blog.
Had I used to many long words for affect? Had I thought too much of who was reading my piece. Was it simple and most important was it really my voice that could be heard or somebody I thought my readers wanted to hear?
Many years ago I had a dream of becoming a writer. I wrote mostly short plays with very wooden dialogue that looked right on the page in front of me but would have tested the skills of the greatest actors in the world. I dabbled with the short story and found that they had some reasonable reviews in my student circles. I sent a few plays, a film-script and a collection of short stories to agents and a few directors.
I got a few replies, saying that there was a germ of talent but I needed to find my own voice. My favourite reply was from the film director Ken Loach, who I wrote to after seeing and reading the script to his film “Kes”. He said that writing was a personal thing and that you needed to write from deep experience and “put your guts on screen”.
I never really found my voice. I disobeyed most of Zinsser’s fantastic advice. This was a book that I needed in 1972 and it wasn’t there until 1985!
So my story is of discovery, regret and hope. William Zinsser is someone you should read if you have any pretensions to becoming a writer. You should read and reread his advice and if possible, get hold of the audiobook and listen to the words of the master.
My hope is that this story might have got some sort of nod of appreciation from the man himself, although I’m sure he would have hauled me over the coals for some areas that did not heed his advice!
May he Rest In Peace.