Good writers got better and bad writers…

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a blog post about the late William Zinsser…..

William Zinsser, who died on May 12 of this year, has long been one of my most-loved writers on the subject of writing. His 18 books include On Writing Well, which is one of my favourites, focusing as it does on the need for economy in writing.

A recent Brain Pickings column payed homage to Zinsser and I like the way it focused on his views surrounding what computers have done for writing. Here is what Zinsser said:

Any invention that reduces the fear of writing is up there with air-conditioning and the lightbulb. But, as always, there’s a catch. Nobody told all the new computer writers that the essence of writing is rewriting. Just because they’re writing fluently doesn’t mean they’re writing well….

Two opposite things happened: good writers got better and bad writers got worse. Good writers welcomed the gift of being able to fuss endlessly with their sentences—pruning and revising and reshaping — without the drudgery of retyping. Bad writers became even more verbose because writing was suddenly so easy and their sentences looked so pretty on the screen. How could such beautiful sentences not be perfect?

Isn’t it interesting how often “opposites” are true? Computers are not only the best thing that happened to writing, but also the worst. I think Zinsser nails it when he speculates as to the reason for this truth.