On Writing WellMy lovely wife gave me On Writing Well, by William Zinsser this Christmas. In a desire to write well I have set about reading Zinsser’s insights. It is my goal over the next several weeks to post on the chapters I’ve read (one per week), and you can judge the improvement of my writing as I report and review.

Chapter 1: The Transaction

Zinsser explains that the transaction between author and reader is the communication of the “humanity and warmth” of the author. What is the vehicle of this transaction? The language used. This is startlingly obvious, and yet helpfully insightful.

This insight comes after Zinsser explains that we write to be known. I’m struck by the vanity of the writing endeavor. It reveals me as selfish, but it’s true. Where this vanity persists, there is also, subtly, a God-likeness.

Am I saying that we are like God by being vain? Well, God is not vain, but he is the most God-focused person in the universe. (How else would you understand passages like Isaiah 48:11?) So, in this sense, in wanting to be known, by expressing ourselves to others, we are like God. The chief difference of course is that we are creatures and not God. Further, God is good to us by revealing himself to us. In fact, the greatest good in the universe – knowing and delighting in God – is achieved by the revealing of God to us. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but my self-revelation in this text is not your greatest good. Hence, my writing teeters on vanity, while God’s writing is a blessing of the first order.


Once again, this seems startlingly obvious, and yet insightful. We bear the image of God, so of course our creative activities will be marked by a similarity to his. He has written his name on his creation, and his incarnation. As people made in his image, it should be expected that we would follow suit in what we make.


Zinsser’s identification of “humanity and warmth” as best communicated with “clarity and strength” in ‘writing well’ ignites two additional thoughts:


1.) God’s writing (the Scripture) communicates the ‘divinity and life’ of God to us.

2.) As writers (even casual ones like me) we desire communication of the “humanity and warmth” within us. What is my humanity? What is the warmth of my life? Indeed, it is the Man, the Definer of Humanity, Christ Jesus.

Zinsser seeks and teaches a transaction through non-fiction writing of the personhood of the author. Redeemed humanity bears forth Christ, the image of the invisible God. May our writing share Christ through us, in such a transaction.