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  • I wasn’t particularly pleased with the deep edits that had just been returned to me, and in my head I was formulating a polite way to express this sentiment to my editor.

    As I gingerly made my case, she pulled a tiny volume off her shelf and opened to a page near the end. “‘Don’t affect a breezy manner,’” she quoted. “Have you ever read through any of this book?”

    Marjorie Smith was the poor soul in The University of Texas at Austin's communications office tasked with enduring my copious prose and helping me whittle away the excess in the short pieces I wrote for the university’s website. Over the course of my internship in the office, I improved my writing more than I had in any college course before that point.

    Before long, I dismissed the notion that William Strunk’s little writing book, The Elements of Style, was heretical, and I bought a copy for myself. This, coupled with Prof. Tom Buckley’s course in magazine writing and his instruction in merciless self-editing, induced a transformation in my writing. Slowly, my soggy sentences became more crisp. My droning paragraphs became more forceful and punchy. I found a new and refined voice.
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