On Writing Professionally

by Paul C. Binotto

© 2019

Interestingly, Dr. Zinsser chooses the first few sentences of his book, On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction, to introduce the reader to renowned author of Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, E.B.White.  Or, at least to the famous photograph taken by Jill Krementz of “a white-haired” White, set in simple and solidary surroundings. Rather still, a description of the photo; Zinsser doesn’t include the actual photo for reference.

Zinsser ponders, “a nail keg. The keg, I don’t have to be told, is his wastebasket.”  He continues further down the page, “a receptacle for all the sentences that didn’t come out the way he wanted them to.”

Zinsser sums up White’s writing style – “His was the seemingly effortless style—achieved, …, with great effort.”

Absent the photo, the reader is left to conjure up an image of the nail keg, in an otherwise tidy and orderly room, heaping over with rejected, rumpled, and frustratingly discarded type-written pages. An aging writer, still working diligently to perfect his craft, always successful in the end, but it doesn’t come easy.

What the author doesn’t tell you is the keg in the photo is tall, (see photo below), narrow, and deep. Its opening darkened; no crumpled papers can be seen protruding from its circular mouth.  

In these opening sentences of the Introduction, before ever moving into the body of the text, Dr. Zinsser has skillfully demonstrated for the reader, a perfect illustration of the Communication Model; the clear and concise relay of an idea, between “Sender” and “Receiver”, as free of unnecessary “Noise” as Ms. Krementz’s photo, and Mr. White’s nail keg, is free of unnecessary clutter.

But, you’ll still want to read the rest of the book to find out how.

Photo: E.B. White, by Jill Krementz (1976)

Sources: Zinsser, William. On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction (p. v- x, p. 3-5). Harper Perennial. Kindle Edition.


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