'On Writing Well' Author William Zinsser Dies At 92 After Inspiring Potential Writers Everywhere
Everyone who considers themselves a writer probably has a copy of his most famous book on their bookshelf. On Writing Well author William Zinsser died Tuesday in his home in Manhattan, his wife of nearly 60 years Caroline Fraser Zinsser confirmed. He was 92.
On Writing Well was first published in 1976, while Zinsser was teaching writing at Yale University. Even after nearly 40 years, the book is still a preeminent text for aspiring writers, and one of the most recommended books on writing ever. With a warm voice and clear advice, Zinsser has taught writers at all stages in their lives — from published nonfiction authors, to memoir writers, to journalists, to people who only write to compose emails and journal entries. At its heart, On Writing Well is about economy, a less-is-more approach to writing:
Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon. ... Examine every word you put on paper. You'll find a surprising number that don't serve any purpose.
There’s not much to be said about the period except that most writers don’t reach it soon enough.
But it's also about the joys of writing that have nothing to do with seeing your book on shelves in a store:
There are many good reasons for writing that have nothing to do with being published. Writing is a powerful search mechanism, and one of its satisfactions is to come to terms with your life narrative. Another is to work through some of life’s hardest knocks—loss, grief, illness, addiction, disappointment, failure—and to find understanding and solace.
On Writing Well has sold well over 1 million copies and has had seven U.S. editions, as Zinsser continued to update his work to include modern technology and new theories. Aside from On Writing Well, Zinsser published 18 books in his lifetime, including his own biography Writing Places. After leaving Yale, he also taught at The New School and Colombia University Graduate School of Journalism, before he left due to his advancing glaucoma. He also worked as the drama and theater critic at The New York Herald Tribune, showing his style and good taste wasn't limited to nonfiction. He clearly followed through on his own advice from On Writing Well:
Decide what you want to do. Then decide to do it. Then do it.