William Zinsser, a true icon in the realm of teaching the art of writing quality prose, recently passed away at the ripe young age of 92. And in Mr. Zinsser’s case, my comment regarding “ripe young age” is not out of line, since he remained on the lecture circuit well into his 80s. Two of the first books on writing I ever purchased were his, ON WRITING WELL and WRITING TO LEARN (should a subscriber be interested in reading either, make it OWW) . I found his advice particularly sound when he discussed presenting a message with clarity as job number one. At that time in my life I was under the impression that a large word would show a writer’s intelligence, when he and Natalie Goldberg in her classic WRITING DOWN THE BONES (yes, I single-handedly have ordained this work a classic, ha ha) educated me to the error of my ways.
In the past year or so all of us who have an affinity for letters have lost two masters of our language, in Mr. Zinsser and Jacques Barzun, the latter who lived to 102. Maybe this means if one becomes an expert at our language he or she will live a long time. I’ll never have to concern myself with this, as the two people I just mentioned possessed more knowledge about English composition in their little fingers than I’ll ever know. RIP, Mr. Zinsser and Dr. Barzun, you both contributed immensely, and everyone who has read your instructions has come away the better for it.