The New York Times once published an article about William Zinsser, the author of the classic guide on non-fiction writing, On Writing Well. I love Mr. Zinsser’s book. It’s on my shelf along with Writing Tools and an increasing number of other books on writing. You learn a lot about how Mr. Zinsser thinks through reading his book. But what you don’t learn is that he has glaucoma, as I do.
His disease has now advanced to the point that he can no longer edit others’ work by looking at it. Instead, he listens. Because writing is as much about hearing the words in one’s head as seeing them on the page or computer screen.
But Mr. Zinsser’s career was nearing its end. (He died this past May.) At 90 he was still teaching and editing. But if he didn’t put in a 10 hour day, no one would think less of him. He wouldn’t cease to bring in a paycheck. My case is a little different right now. I’m still working full-time. I put in 10 hour days in front of a computer in my office. So my struggle at the moment is finding time outside of work when my eyes are not fatigued and painful to work on the computer, write books, write a blog post. These eyes of mine used to be able to put in 14 or 16 hours in front of a computer screen. Now they can’t. Dry eye irritates. Then after a while it hurts. Then I can’t keep my eyes open because they feel like they’ll melt in an ocean of pain.
But this isn’t a pity party. Actually, the article on Mr. Zinsser helped me concentrate on the flexibility of writing. And pushed me to consider doing something I’ve been putting off doing, namely, switching to writing using voice recognition software such as Dragon. I have it installed on my computer. But I don’t use it.
Mr. Zinsser’s point makes me think: “People read with their ears, whether they know it or not.” If people read with their ears, maybe eventually it will be time for me to start writing with my mouth?