What Happens When Your Writing Professor Is William Zinsser

The weekly writing assignments—thousand-word limit, a safeguard for Bill’s sanity—required us to try our hands at a wide range of forms: humor, interviewing, travel, science, sports, criticism, editorials. This regimen inevitably yielded the occasional face-first failure, soon to be transmuted by pedagogical alchemy into an edifying failure. At the end of class, Bill would return our papers from the previous week, each illuminated with his editing suggestions and provocative marginalia. I still wince at his dead-on appraisal of my travel piece: “You’ll notice that I stopped marking this halfway through. What you’ve written is interesting only to you.”

In The New Yorker, Mark Singer remembers his former teacher, On Writing Well author William Zinsser, who died in 2015.

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