My Conversation With William Zinsser

Of all the authors whose work I enjoy reading, William Zinsser is my favorite, especially now.
We read books, but we rarely get a chance to thank the author for his or her work. I decided to write Mr. Zinsser a letter. I wanted to thank him for his passion for writing and for teaching aspiring writers.

I found an address for Mr. Zinsser on switchboard.com. A telelphone number was listed as well. I wanted to make sure that I had the right address, so I called the number. I expected to hear a cheerful receptionist say, "William Zinsser's office." Instead, I heard a familiar voice. I recognized his voice from an audio book, Writing Places, a memoir he wrote about the places he has written.

"Hello?" he said.

"Uh." I was speechless.

"Hello?" he said again.

I regained my composure.

"Mr. Zinsser?"

"Yes, this is he."

I was not prepared to speak to him. I managed to remember my name and where I was from. I told him I was writing him a letter, and that I needed to make sure I had the right address. "Oh, I enjoy getting letters," he said. We spoke for just a few minutes, but I will never forget that call. He was just as kind as he sounded in his book. He asked me about myself. He wanted to know what I did, and if I was a writer.

If you've never read William Zinsser's work, you're missing out. I started with On Writing Well. You can also find his weekly blog post here.


Joshua Rogers said...

EVAN!!! You are THE MAN. I read this, and I was like, "I'm calling Zinsser now." (Don't worry, I didn't).

Anyway, "On Writing Well" is one of my favorite books. You know a man can write well when he can write a page-turner on good writing. The book made a huge difference in my writing style, and it makes me want to write him as well.

Seriously, you deserve an award for courage in the face of talking to a literary giant of sorts. I'm so proud of you.

Evan Bell said...


I wish I could say that I had the courage to call him. I was expecting to talk to a secretary. You would think a man who has written over 15 books (one that sold over 1 million copies) wouldn't answer his own phone.

He's great, though. Check out this excerpt from Writing Places:

“Many younger writers have taken me as a mentor. They just look me up in the Manhattan telephone book. ‘I know how busy you are,’ they say, assuming that I spend every minute writing at my computer. I tell them I have many ways of being busy, and this is one of the ways I like best. I particularly like to be busy with people who want their writing to make a difference, and by now I have a small shelf of their books.”

Joshua Rogers said...


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