Monday, June 24, 2013

Author Spotlight [2]: William Zinsser (with postscript on current school life)

Writing organizes and clarifies our thoughts. Writing is how we think into a subject and make it our own. Writing enables us to find out what we know – and what we don’t know – about whatever we’re trying to learn. Putting an idea into written words is like defrosting a windshield: The idea, so vague out there in the murk, slowly begins to gather itself into a sensible shape. Whatever we write – a memo, a letter, a note to the baby-sitter – all of us know this moment of finding out what we really want to say by trying in writing to say it.
(from Writing to Learn by William Zinsser)

Last post was about free writing. I find writing practice to be useful in all kinds of writing I am doing, be it essays, papers, or stories. It’s good to just keep the hand moving for awhile, and even if I felt like I had nothing to write at first I had put down words that might be useful, and sometimes I surprise myself that I actually had something to say. My mind was doing its own thinking while I was writing. Then, I can revise.

Zinsser taught a different type of writing: non-fiction and technical writing. He values simplicity, clarity, and brevity. As a frustrated student who had a hard time with dense ‘nose-bleed’ inducing academic texts, his style is refreshing. I read Writing to Learn during a time I wasn’t in school, and it helped me a lot when I got back and it made me realize things I couldn’t have realized in school. In the book, he showed excellent examples of clear writing in all subjects. Clear thinking leads to clear writing, and any topic can be made simple or interesting with it.

Here’s an example from Zinsser’s book of a bad sentence:
“The ongoing reconfiguration positions Barbara offsite to hopefully identify growth and profitability potentials beyond what is currently being realized.”
At first reading, I can’t understand it at all. Translated by Zinsser in simple English, it just says:
“Barbara will try to find out why we ain’t doing better.”

Why all the long words? But that kind of sentence in the first example is found everywhere. I admit I’ve fallen victim to it, too, thinking that it sounds smarter if one writes such complex sentences. Students often think that ‘the longer the better’ when it comes to class essays or papers, inserting unneeded words which actually distort the message than clarify it. In reading and writing prose, I now prefer the short yet clear than the long but wordy.

I’m starting my last year at university! I’m having a bad case of senioritis:
I have six subjects for this sem: Research (thesis), Rizal (the teacher is so boring), Principles of Teaching, Geography, Afro-Asian Literature, and Education in LIS. Good luck to me.

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