A Few Words: “On Writing Well”

I’m going to admit to heresy here, so please make sure that you have a good, soft spot upon which to fall.

I’ve not read William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well.”

It was assigned in college, when I was younger and in a hurry to become the world’s greatest writer. I couldn’t be bothered with reading some dry, souless text about how to write. Writing is art, not science! I chafed at the notion of rules for writing. I eschewed governance. I wanted to write what I wanted to write, not what some pin-headed academic thought good and proper.

In short, I was an idiot.

And now I pay the price. I have labored for years to write and find publication. I have had recent successes (click on the link to my Author page for examples) but not achieved anything satisfactory. I’ve not “hit the big time”, as it were. I struggle to find my voice, to settle into a style that suits me and allows for maximum creative output.

And as my past few posts indicate, I have become emotionally and personally confused. I’ve lost my way. Lost the muse. I now sit before an empty computer screen and long for my head to errupt.

I could have avoided such pain if only I had read Zinsser. For those of you who write, or who long to write (and let’s be honest: by write, I mean become extremely successful or well-known) then you must need read these words from Zinsser and heed them:

“Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this as a consolation in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do.”

To that I say: dammit.

I picked writing because I had some talent at turning a phrase, and I figured that talent alone could propel me where I wished. Had I but read, I would have learned that discipline and dedication are also needed. That introspection and sarcastic bombast aside, writing really comes down to having a passion for saying things in a way that other people can understand, and that means working hard to say things well.

It means that I have to go back and retrace steps I never took, relearn things I couldn’t be bothered to learn. As someone else once said, “You have to learn the rules before you can break them.”

I am headed back to literary law school in the hopes of salvaging my talent through the submission to rule and order. I am hopeful, but cautious.

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