Zinsser on Writing

Zinsser on Writing

Some Thoughts on Writing About Your Life

The book, On Writing Well by William Zinsser, was one of the first books I ever read on the craft of writing. Recently I read his newest book, Writing About Your Life, an insightful and humorous look at writing a memoir. Not just an instruction manual for would-be writers, Mr. Zinsser uses examples of his own published writing, as well as anecdotes from his life, to show us that we all have meaningful stories inside of us. Below are a few inspiring quotes from the book. I highly recommend this book to people who like to write and who like to read about the lives of writers.

“Don’t rummage around in your past for ‘important’ events–events you think are important enough to justify asking the rest of us to read about them. Write about the small, self-contained incidents that are still vivid in your memory. If you remember them it’s because they contain a larger truth that your readers will recognize in their own lives. Think small and you’ll wind up finding the big themes in your family saga.”

“Be content to tell your small portion of a larger story. Too short is always better than too long.”

“Specific detail is the foundation of nonfiction writing, and nowhere is it more important than in a memoir. You must enable us to picture the place where you grew up and the people who crossed your life….Look for the human connection as you make your journey. Connect to the people who connected with you.”

“Look for small anecdotes in the larger canvas of your life…Don’t overlook the seemingly small stories in your life that shaped the person you turned out to be.”

“I now try to catch the intention of every place I write about: to see it for what it is, or for what it’s trying to be, not for what I might have expected or wanted it to be…. Mere observing and reporting isn’t enough. You must make a personal connection with the place you’re writing about.”

“When you write about your own life, much of your writing will be about a place. You must give us a picture of what the place looked like and felt like: pure description. But why does it still stick in your mind? It sticks because it embodies an idea that’s larger than the place itself. Try to find that idea.”

“Moral: Write about things that are important to you, not about what you think readers will want to read, or editors will want to publish or agents will want to sell. Readers and editors and agents don’t know what they want to read until they read it. If it’s important to you, it will be important to other people.”

“I’ve stopped worrying about conditions that I can’t control or change. I just do what I came to do, as well as I can.”