"Simplify your language and thereby find your humanity."
May 23, 2015 3:08 PM   Subscribe

"The life-changing message of 'On Writing Well' is: simplify your language and thereby find your humanity." William Zinsser, journalist and nonfiction writer, passed away earlier this month. His book, "On Writing Well," is one of the definitive works on the craft of writing. posted by jbickers (21 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
posted by carmicha at 3:40 PM on May 23, 2015

posted by postcommunism at 3:55 PM on May 23, 2015

Having observed the debate around the usefulness of Strunk & White's, I can only conclude that the only way to learn how to write is to write.
posted by rankfreudlite at 4:03 PM on May 23, 2015

and read. You have to write and read. And edit ruthlessly.
posted by poe at 4:13 PM on May 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


A publisher I worked for gave a copy of Zinsser's book to every new hire, in house or freelance. It's a good book, and a useful one, and it's good that Zinsser left it behind.
posted by notyou at 4:17 PM on May 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

You have to have your brain turned on. You have to read like a bastard, and filter every word to understand why it does what it does to you, and then you have to write like a bastard with the same circuits in place. Then you have to put your ego into a bag, weigh it with stones, throw it in the canal, and edit.

Remember: you are asking your reader to burn seconds or minutes or hours of their life, their mortal non-refundable time on the planet, on trust that you will repay the investment. You are taking all that they have for the time they are with you. Take that responsibility seriously.

(None of this applies if you're a pukka genius. Which you are not.)
posted by Devonian at 4:36 PM on May 23, 2015 [13 favorites]

Is the book out of copyright? Is that why it's cool to post a link to a full PDF of it?
posted by OwlBoy at 4:43 PM on May 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I don't think that's so cool.
posted by No-sword at 4:57 PM on May 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yeah, pretty sure a book published in 1976 still has copyright protection, and the link is an edu address, where (as an educator) I've noticed a pretty flagrant disregard of copyright law. Maybe a mod can remove the link, it's a good post otherwise.
posted by Huck500 at 5:00 PM on May 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Even if it was used in a course, there is no way the publisher gave permission to distribute a DRM free copy to students.
posted by OwlBoy at 5:02 PM on May 23, 2015

posted by brecc at 5:10 PM on May 23, 2015

posted by key_of_z at 5:13 PM on May 23, 2015

I still have the copy of the book I bought as required reading for an undergrad journalism program.
posted by Nevin at 6:29 PM on May 23, 2015

posted by Cash4Lead at 7:09 PM on May 23, 2015

I found On Writing Well by accident at a bookstore. It so left a mark on me that I read it and Writing to Learn every few years. They are invaluable and I was lucky to have stumbled upon them.

posted by Tacodog at 8:38 PM on May 23, 2015

The PDF is the first link on the google machine, as well as other search engines. That edition is two versions back. It's not like jbickers had a dastardly plot to make old editions the new pirate currency. I think perhaps there is a little pearl clutching going on. Having read a lot of Mr. Zinsser's books, and knowing that this PDF has been on the web, on an EDU site for years, I have to believe that if Mr. Zinssler had wanted it removed, he would have done so.

That said; he lived a long and interesting life, and wrote some really good stuff. The world is poorer for his loss, and I feel such sympathy for his wife of 60 years.
posted by dejah420 at 9:04 PM on May 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

On Writing Well About Passives
posted by lagomorph at 7:53 AM on May 24, 2015

posted by virago at 6:21 PM on May 24, 2015

On Writing Well About Passives

That's a truly disingenuous criticism of Zinsser's advice to avoid passive clauses (basically, finding examples of Zinsser's use of passive and saying "nyah-nyah") , especially as Zinsser's own advice is, paraphrasing, "avoid passives, unless doing so is worse."

Some folks deserve getting their graves pissed on, maybe. Zinsser isn't one of them.
posted by notyou at 6:34 PM on May 24, 2015

posted by jlbartosa at 6:55 AM on May 25, 2015

posted by neushoorn at 4:01 AM on May 26, 2015

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