William Zinsser’s 5 tips for becoming a better writer

William Zinsser

William Zinsser

1) >Take readers on a journey“All writing to me is a journey. It’s saying to the reader, ‘Come along with me; I’ll take you on a voyage,’ ” Zinsser said. “These writers do that by never losing sight of the fact that they are telling a story.”

Too often, Zinsser said, people become so preoccupied with writing well that they clutter their stories with unnecessary words that lead readers astray. Good writers make every word count, and they avoid abstractions.

“Nobody wants abstractions,” Zinsser said. “They want specific details that help them discover something new.”

2)Think of writing as a process, not a product.”When writers focus on the end product, they can lose sight of what the story is and why they’re telling it. Zinsser advises writers to instead focus on the process of writing — organizing the parts of a story, crafting a lead, making revisions. If you view writing as a process, Zinsser said, the product will take care of itself.

3)Write for yourself, not othersWhen writers ask him how to be “successful,” Zinsser tells them to write the story they want to tell and tell it well. A successful writer, he said, “is not going to be derailed by the agenda of an agent or publisher or magazine editor. Editors and publishers will come and go, but you’re stuck with your values forever

4) Have confidence in yourself as a writerA lack of confidence is one of the biggest obstacles to good writing, Zinsser said. As a teacher, he has been surprised to see how many of his students lack confidence — especially his female students.

“I think this society, for all its famous freedoms, still squashes women into believing their story isn’t worthy enough to tell,” said Zinsser. “I sit in a class and ask what they want to do and they talk so quietly I can’t hear them. I finally say, ‘Speak up. You’re not going to be a journalist if no one can hear you.’ ”

5)Don’t take yourself too seriously
Over the years, Zinsser has found ways to make himself and his readers laugh.

While writing columns for Life magazine from 1968 to 1972, Zinsser often used humor to address serious subjects, such as the excess of military power. He wrote one column, for instance, about repeated arguments over the shape of the table at the Vietnam peace conference in Paris. He explains this story in his book, “On Writing Well”:

From Poynter Institute.org


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