NPR logo
William Zinsser, Author Of 'On Writing Well,' Dies
  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/406505154/406505155" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
William Zinsser, Author Of 'On Writing Well,' Dies

Remembrances

William Zinsser, Author Of 'On Writing Well,' Dies

William Zinsser, Author Of 'On Writing Well,' Dies
  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/406505154/406505155" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

William Zinsser, a writer whose 1976 book On Writing Well has become a Bible for people hoping to write concisely and with verve, died Tuesday at 92.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

A man who so generously gave us a some simple rules to help us write better died yesterday. Actually, he'd probably urge me to rethink that sentence so let's try this again. William Zinsser died yesterday.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Zinsser wrote the book on writing. It was called "On Writing Well," and it was first published in 1976. It became an immediate classic.

BLOCK: His rules were simple - keep it short, don't use jargon.

CORNISH: Read everything you write out loud.

BLOCK: We do a lot of that here. Leave the reader thinking you had fun while writing, that you enjoyed it.

CORNISH: Have confidence.

BLOCK: Zinsser elaborated on that point on this program in 2006.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

WILLIAM ZINSSER: I don't think you should never worry what people think of you. I think you should write whatever you're writing, you should write entirely for yourself. Don't try to think what editors want, what publishers want, what agents want. They don't really know until they see it. So I think the important thing is to get it down.

BLOCK: More than a million-and-a-half copies of "On Writing Well" have been sold.

CORNISH: Zinsser wrote 19 books. He was also a movie critic and editor at the New York Herald Tribune. When the paper folded in the mid-'60s, he became a freelance writer and later taught at Yale.

BLOCK: Zinsser updated "On Writing Well" occasionally, and that's what prompted our chat with him back in 2006. He had just published a new version with a chapter devoted to memoirs.

CORNISH: He stressed the need to know the stories of our loved ones before it was too late.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

ZINSSER: One of the saddest sentences I know is I wish I had asked my mother about that. I wish I had asked my father about that. Writers are the custodians of memory so it's extremely important to get to people, interview your parents, your grandparents. Don't worry what anybody else thinks. The important thing is to be a recorder of the past. But it's very important work, I think, writing family history, whether anyone ever sees it or not.

BLOCK: William Zinsser died yesterday in New York at the age of 92. He's survived by a son and daughter, four grandchildren and his wife, Caroline Fraser Zinsser. They were married for almost 60 years.

CORNISH: He had said his best-known work, "On Writing Well," was her idea.

BLOCK: Our favorite line from that book - there's not much to be said about the period, except that most writers don't reach it soon enough.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.