Zinsser’s thesis

Saying a true thing again and again

I’ve just finished reading William Zinsser’s Writing to Learn. Before that, I read On Writing Well. For a writer who promoted concision, he constantly repeats his central thesis, that writing is thinking. There’s nothing wrong with that repetition, though—repeating truth in its simplest form is a good way to impart it.

Here are the central lessons I found Zinsser repeating:

  1. Non-fiction writing is thinking.
  2. Thinking is a logical procession of questions and answers. (Sometimes when writing, we leave the questions unannounced.)
  3. The best writing is stripped of ornamentation, so that the thought process dominates. Writers achieve this through rewriting.

His books are worth a read, for their memorable lessons and well-chosen quotations. Their subject and form alike demonstrate how good non-fiction writing lets its subject argue for itself. Zinsser’s anecdotes provide colourful insights on the writer’s life, both from his own experience and those of the writers he admires. Consider this obituary for more anecdotes and a touching summary of Zinsser’s life.