‘Omit needless words! Omit needless words! Omit…’

My favourite writing coach, Roy Peter Clark, has written a splendid tribute to William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well.

Zinsser’s best-known book is now in its 30th anniversary edition, having sold more than a million copies. Seeing as it’s probably the best book on writing nonfiction, that’s nice to know.

Writing on Poynter.org, Clark celebrates two pages of On Writing Well that reproduce a marked-up draft of the book.

For the record, they are pages 10 and 11 in my edition. I’ve studied them until my eyes bleed. I’ve shared them with countless aspiring writers, young and old. There have never — I say never! — been two pages in a writing text as practical, persuasive and revealing as pages 10 and 11. Like the music ethos articulated by the likes of Miles Davis and Tony Bennett, Zinsser demonstrates in writing that there are notes in a composition (words in his case) that the artist should leave out.

Pages 10 and 11 show how Zinsser slashed words and phrases that most of us would lazily let stand. The result is tighter, clearer and more powerful. “Faced with such a variety of obstacles” becomes “faced with these obstacles.” “He tends to blame himself” becomes “He blames himself.” “Two or three different” becomes “several.”

As Zinsser says, “rewriting is the essence of writing.”

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