Saturday, February 16, 2013

On Writing Better

I seldom post to this blog anymore, but I've started rereading William Zinsser's wonderful book titled "On Writing Well," and I feel inspired to write and challenged to write well. Of course, I've always wanted to believe that I write well already and needn't work harder to write better, but I've always known on one level or other that there's room for improvement.

Zinsser writes: "Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon." Well, that seems to describe my writing when I examine my words under the magnifying glass. I've always woven superfluous and pretentiously big words into ornate sentences that surely tax the patience of even the most attentive readers and send the rest scurrying for cover.

Yet I struggle with the question of how to streamline my writing in a way that improves it rather than robs it of my unique and vital voice. I long to write clearly and simply, but I don't want to repel readers with prose that sounds like Dr. Seuss wrote it and they stop reading not because my writing's too daunting in its turbid complexity but because it's too boring in its spare and sterile simplicity.

Well, Zinsser makes one thing clear at the outset. Writing is difficult work. If it ever seems easy, it's probably because I'm doing it wrong. But I still have to figure out how to do it right, and I'm hoping that reading Zinsser's book and practicing what it preaches will help me.

However, I need to remember that when we try to do something differently that we already do pretty well, we may do it worse before we learn how to do it better and that we need to hang in there with the effort and the frustration.

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