Zinsser does it again (and so do I)

by Jess

Good ol Willy Zinsser.  When it comes to writing, he’s tops.

The American Scholar published the text of a talk he gave to international journalism students, called “Writing English as a Second Language,” and it’s much more interesting than it sounds.  Here’s a snippet:

First, a little history. The English language is derived from two main sources. One is Latin, the florid language of ancient Rome. The other is Anglo-Saxon, the plain languages of England and northern Europe. The words derived from Latin are the enemy—they will strangle and suffocate everything you write. The Anglo-Saxon words will set you free.

As an editor, I have three rules for writing: Clarity, Consistency, and Conciseness.  Zinsser’s principles of good writing are similar, with one significant difference: Clarity, Simplicity, Brevity, and Humanity.  Of the last principle, he says, “Be yourself. Never try in your writing to be someone you’re not. Your product, finally, is you. Don’t lose that person by putting on airs, trying to sound superior.”

One last lovely bit:  “The epidemic I’m most worried about isn’t swine flu. It’s the death of logical thinking…  The hard part of writing isn’t the writing; it’s the thinking.”

And speaking of good writing…  The boys over at Knee-Jerk Magazine have accepted an essay I wrote for the February issue.  I’ll let you know when it’s up!