“Writing well means believing in your writing and believing in yourself, taking risks, daring to be different, pushing yourself to excel. You will write only as well as you make yourself write”
–William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Nonfiction Writing
In Part 4 of On Writing Well, author William Zinsser goes more in depth about successful nonfiction writing and how writers can uniquely establish themselves. He begins by discussing a writer’s voice and how their own voice should be treated with care. Zinsser advises to avoid breeziness, condescension, and clichés. Breeziness in writing evokes a sense of conversation through words. Imagine a conversation with your grandparents on their back porch. There is a certain technique to achieving an easy, conversational style in writing. Zinsser praises E.B. White; his grammar and words are simple, concise, and accurate and the pace of his words is clearly thought out well. Here’s an example of a typical paragraph by E.B. White:
“I spent several days and nights in mid-September with an ailing pig and I feel driven to account for this stretch of time, more particularly since the pig died at last, and I lived, and things might easily have gone the other way round and none left to do the accounting” (Zinsser 232).
Condescension should also be avoided. As writers, we should never give off the impression of superiority. Writing is about connection to others through written words. Words are powerful and must be used wisely and eloquently in order to touch people in a meaningful, sincere way. This is something all writers ought to strive for. Clichés also hinder the potential for good writing; they make a piece of writing tasteless and even though they can help us understand complex ideas through the use of metaphors, they are often cheesy and overused expressions. Furthermore, they do not give your writing the voice and uniqueness that it ought to have.
Zinsser also believe writers need to develop their own voice in order to stand out amongst the rest. Write for yourself, not your intended audience. If a writer is passionate about their topic and puts effort into conveying their message, others will be interested and engaged. However, this doesn’t mean we, as writers, can’t seek out inspiration and ideas from other gifted writers. In fact, Zinsser believes we ought to learn from others’ writing in that “imitation is part of the creative process for anyone learning an art or a craft…Don’t worry that by imitating them you’ll lose your own voice and your own identity. Soon enough you will shed those skins and become who you are supposed to become” (235-236). Imitation is a form of flattery and it only helps us in becoming more proficient writers. The more knowledge we gain and take in from others, they more we benefit from it. It’s similar to the positive correlation between the amount of reading we do and how skilled of writers and readers we are.
The younger generations today, that have been raised with all types of media and being exposed to it 24/7, do not know the value of language and its purpose to be used eloquently. Nowadays, images and sounds that visually and audibly entertain are valued more than words on a page. Zinsser encourages us to remember the beauty and influence of words. Words allow us to connect with one another and convey messages in a way that is different from verbal communication and or physical actions. Therefore, finding our voices as readers is crucial.
Another vital message to take away from Part 4 of Zinsser’s On Writing Well is the realization that writing is to be enjoyed and even when it is daunting at times, overcoming challenges will instill newfound confidence in the end. He states of the key successful nonfiction writing,
“Living is the trick. Writers who write interestingly tend to be men and women who keep themselves interested. That’s almost the whole point of becoming a writer. I’ve used writing to give myself an interesting life and a continuing education. If you write about subjects you think you would enjoy knowing about, your enjoyment will show in what you write. Learning is a tonic (245).”
Writing and the process involved are very philosophical. It mirrors the important life lesson of dreaming big, expanding your horizons, and seeing the rewarding results. Zinsser believes writers ought to set the goals of their pieces and sell those pieces to the best of their ability. Pick a writing challenge and go do it. You’ll never know what you’re capable of until you try. Each decision you make in the writing process is valuable and will contribute to the quality of the entire end product. It’ll undoubtedly be worth all the hard work and readers will appreciate it too.