WILL: Recognizing the art of good writing
Published: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 2:01 p.m.
When asked to explain the brisk pace of his novels, Elmore Leonard said, “I leave out the parts that people skip.” You will not want to skip anything in William Zinsser’s short essays written for the American Scholar magazine’s website and now collected in “The Writer Who Stayed,” a book that begins with him wondering why “every year student writing is a little more disheveled.”
One answer is that too few have read Zinsser’s earlier book “On Writing Well.” His answer is: “People now get their information mainly from random images on a screen and from random messages in their ears, and it no longer occurs to them that writing is linear and sequential, sentence B must follow sentence A.”
Tooting his own trumpet is not the style of this self-effacing and decorous WASP, who never leaves his Manhattan apartment or boards a plane or train without a jacket (J. Press, of course) and tie. Others, however, who cherish the craft of writing should toot it for him, lest young writers miss exposure to lapidary sentences such as: “I doubt if I’m the only person who has never quite understood what postmodern means, or how long post is supposed to last; the word floats in a vast sea of postness.”
Style reflects sensibility, and Zinsser’s style of clarity and economy derives from a sensibility that recoils from blurry words that carry deplorable thinking the way mosquitoes carry malaria. When his broker tells him a new person will be the “assistant assigned to your relationship,” Zinsser wonders whether he has relationships with his barber, and with Maria at the coffee shop. “Cole Porter,” he notes, “didn’t write, Kempton’s 75-word sentence about President Our “endlessly supple” English language will, Zinsser says, “do anything you ask it to do, if you treat it well. Try it and see.” George F. Will is a columnist for the Washington Post. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published
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Kempton’s 75-word sentence about President
Our “endlessly supple” English language will, Zinsser says, “do anything you ask it to do, if you treat it well. Try it and see.”
George F. Will is a columnist for the Washington Post.