On Writing Well

Posted by on May 14, 2015 in Articles | 2 Comments

IMG_3268I am often asked what the early influences were in my creative life. I reply by listing the most important- my parents, Elliot Porter, Sierra Club books, my dear friends John Shaw and Wayne Lynch- but there is one that has nothing to do with photography but everything to do with whatever success I have attained.

Very early in my career I was told to read the book “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser. This small but compelling book perhaps had the greatest effect on sustaining my career, from taking me from being just a photographer to being rather a writer and photographer. In so doing I found my voice. Is there a greater gift a book can give?

William Zinger died yesterday at age 92- a quiet man who devoted himself through his teaching and writing to clarity and the elimination of clutter in writing. I remember reading his book and then rereading something I had just written and deleting practically every other word. I do it still. That last sentence started out to be twice as long until I’ Zinssered’ it.

“There is not much to be said about the period except that most writers don’t reach it soon enough” typifies what William Zinsser espoused. But it is more than just brevity. From concision comes your voice and from your voice comes your power. When done carefully and with much heart the result is magic. What power, what magic I have conjured in my writing is in large part due to William Zinsser.

So if you want your photography to do more, if you want it to have impact, have a voice, buy On Writing Well and add some (concise) words to your images. You will be amazed at the power that will result. I have always said that writing is the result of rewriting and great writing is the result of great rewriting. William Zinsser taught me that. Thank you.


  1. Darin Reed
    May 14, 2015

    This is indeed, sad news. David, on your recommendation, I read this book a couple of years ago. It transformed my writing and has afforded me so much enjoyment of the creative writing process. I’ve written many articles for and have since become, the editor of my camera club newsletter. I look forward to creating my own online blog in the near future. I owe it all to you and William Zinnser. It’s amazing the impact a book can have on someone’s life and a fitting legacy for William, that through his book and his students, he continues to inspire wonderful literature.

    • David
      May 14, 2015

      Nicely said, Darin. thank you