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Thursday, May 28, 2015

William Zinnsser: The Nonfiction Writers' Mentor, Everywriters' Example

“Few people realize how badly they write.”

This is a quote selected by the LA Times for William Zinsser’s obituary. It is jarring enough to make writers sit up straight and listen to the wisdom this author shared in his On Writing, a mustread that I recommend in The Frugal Editor. He truly was a mentor and model for writers. But one of his most valuable lessons is something he didn’t preach but modeled for us. The author of his obituary, Elaine Woo, captured that lesson with, “
. . . he never portrayed himself as infallible.” How could he? He knew how much work and how long it took him to know what he knew and—based on that—knew how much he still might know given the time.

I like the way Woo worded this. She didn’t use the word “humble.” Zinsser knew he had something to offer other writers so if he had been a “humble” person he might not have passed along his store of knowledge to us. If we pattern our own careers on his—use his service and advocacy as a guide—we, too, may leave something behind when we go. We, too, if given the time (Zinsser was 92) have many years to contribute and build. It is not a race, but a gift. A gift more precious for being wrapped in knowing we are not infallible regardless of our achievements.

May we all use whatever time we have left sharing and perfecting that rare skill of knowing we are not infallible
Carolyn Howard-Johnson edits, consults, and speaks on issues of writing and publishing. Find her at Find the second edition of her multi award-winning The Frugal Editor: Do-it-yourself editing secrets for authors: From your query letter to final manuscript to the marketing of your bestseller. (HowToDoItFrugally Series of Books for Writers). Learn more about her other authors' aids at , where writers find lists and other helps including , Great Little Last-Minute Editing Tips on the Resources for Writers page. She blogs on all things publishing (not just editing!) at her SharingingwithWriters blog. She tweets writers' resources at . Please tweet this post to your followers. We all need a little help with editing. (-:

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