Writing in the New Year

As part of my emerging New Year commitments (I no longer list my NY resolutions in one shot and at the beginning of the year as I once did but let them emerge organically and with spirit) I am recommitting to my lifelong goal of writing more and writing better.

Automatically, my thoughts go to one of my writing heros, William Zinnser, the acclaimed author of the seminal book ‘On Writing Well’, that gave wings to many a fledgling or blocked writer to embrace the craft of writing. I, personally, feel indebted to him for inspiring work and its influence on my writing life. I first encountered him through his book that I came across in a Minneapolis Public Library, and then sought to read some of his other writing, all offering practical advice and a great deal of optimism which I just loved. I felt a personal connection on reading in one of his pieces about how he was often approached by and would help immigrant students for whom English was a second language. As an immigrant and an academic/educator involved in writing, I thought to myself, this is a man I must someday meet. Once before on a conference that was taking me to New York City, I dared myself to look him up and made a cold call to his listed number. No one answered and I put the phone down. Then, in the next few minutes with unusual determination I found myself calling him again and leaving a message, not expecting a response but feeling good that I had tried my best. Within three hours, he called back and we spoke briefly. He graciously welcomed a visit and gave me his office address and so it was that I met him in person when he was 88 years old. The details of that wonderful visit I will leave for another time but suffice to say that William Zinnser will always be an inspiring and real person imprinted in my memory. And I am glad I made that call because four years later, in 2015, I read with heavy heart in The American Scholar, a piece about his passing and his legacy.


Back to writing then, the day after his passing Open Culture published a good article on 10 Writing Tips from a Legendary Writing Teacher which is especially relevant to me as I recommit to my writing. Some of my favorites, that inform my own writing are: Don’t make lazy word choices (#1), On the other hand, avoid jargon and big words (#2),  Writing is hard work (#3),  Write in the first person (#4), Study the masters but also your contemporaries (#7), Read everything you write out loud for rhythm and sound (#9), And don’t ever believe you are going to write anything definitive (#10).  The last one especially is classic Zinnser – he knew how to inspire a writer’s confidence without letting things go to their head.  I’m looking forward to a year of prolific, accessible writing that is high quality and written with both confidence and humility in 2017!


Image credit: New York Times

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