A writing coach without a red pen

“Writing is learned by imitation; we all need models,” William Zinsser once wrote. He has been one of mine.

Like many writers, I claim Zinsser’s classic On Writing Well as the first book about writing that captured my heart and imagination. I picked it up at the recommendation of a high school English teacher, and Zinsser taught me how to rinse my writing of clutter and make it shine.

This weekend, The New York Times profiled Zinsser, now a 90-year-old man with glaucoma who is still helping writers with their craft. He cannot read the words on the page, so he listens to them read aloud:

“Much that I no longer see,” he says, “I don’t have to see.”

I love what the Times writer shows us about Zinsser, gracious and wise. I hope that when I am 90, I still care about words the way he does:

People come to him in stages of typed-out paralysis, stalled, uncertain whether they have written too much or too little. He tries to help them organize their thoughts by condensing, reducing — learning what not to include.

“By talking to them, by finding out who they are, I bring out their own personality,” he says. “And ease their mind, for God’s sake.”

The whole article is worth reading. When you’ve finished, pick up On Writing Well for the first or hundredth time.