Clutter is the disease of American writing

Word count: 250 words

Reading time: About 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help writers. Today I examine a mini-profile of William Zinsser.

William Zinsser is the author of one of my favourite writing guides, On Writing Well (now in its 30th anniversary edition.) I find his writing colourful, in the sense that it gives me clear visual images in my mind’s eye. But, at the same time, I find his writing clear and sharp — reading it is rather like taking a quick breath on a crisp Spring day. Here, for example, is what he has to say about simplicity:

Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.

Stern words, but delivered kindly. Kindness is the hallmark of Zinsser. I sense it in his writing. And now I can see it in an April 28/13 mini-profile in the New York Times. Zinsser, now 90-years-old, and blind, offers free coaching to experienced and aspiring writers. The only cost? Giving him lunch. It’s enough to make me want to hop a plane to New Haven, Connecticut, tomorrow.

I agree with his premise that “people read with their ears, whether they know it or not,” and I find his decision to coach others — to do what he can despite the loss of his vision — to be deeply moving. Read this article. But, better yet, read his book.

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