DukeWrites Interviews Tutor Zackary Vernon

How long have you worked as a writing tutor at Duke? This is my third year as a tutor at the Writing Studio. During that time, I’ve had nearly 500 appointments with writers from all fields and disciplines.

Describe your particular approach to tutoring. My approach to tutoring is improvisatory. The Writing Studio does not have a single formula that can be applied to each writer’s work.  Instead, we strive to tailor every appointment to best fit the needs of the individual writer and project. As a result, my appointments always start with the question: “What would you like us to work on today?”

 What do you think are the most useful resources at the Writing Studio? The Writing Studio has a very impressive collection of helpful links and handouts on our website. In particular, I’d like to highlight the reverse outline handout.  The idea behind revere outlining could not be simpler: You create an outline for a paper after, rather than before, you have completed a draft of the paper. This can help you assess the global organization of the paper and then rearrange the structure to cultivate the most effective form possible for the piece. For me, discovering this revision strategy was a complete revelation, and it has undoubtedly strengthened my writing ever since.

 What do you enjoy most about tutoring? I enjoy getting to see the interesting work that is being done in many fields across the university. As an English graduate student, I’m normally only exposed to a relatively small spectrum of work that is done primarily in the humanities. But at the Writing Studio, I’m exposed to the valuable scholarship that is currently being produced by writers from many different areas. It’s particularly rewarding to discover connections between these projects. There are many issues, such as environmentalism, that seemingly far-flung parts of the university are all working to address.

If you could offer writers only one tip, what would it be? Revise. It’s unrealistic and unproductive to expect perfection from a first draft. Writing is a difficult process that can and often does take a lot of time and energy.  That’s not to say that the process is always painful; it can be, but it can also be very rewarding.  The point, though, is that writing—like many things that are worth doing—requires tremendous and ongoing effort. One of my professors once said, “I hate writing, but I love having written.”

What do you do when you are not tutoring? This will probably sound like a lie, given the context. But when I’m not at the Writing Studio, I actually spend a lot of time writing…and I enjoy it.

Also, I like films, fiction, cooking, gardening, pouring salt on slugs, cheese, birds of prey, swimming, watching trains, getting lost in the woods, finding shark’s teeth, coffee, Irish accents, catching blue crabs, listening to crickets, making campfires, the color blue, the texture velvet, Seagrove pottery, Indian arrowheads, the sound of stepping on a pinecone, the word bougainvillea, and the phrase “Don’t overdo it, but don’t overunderdo it.”

Above all, though, I love just hanging out at home with my fiancée and our two Australian Shepherds.


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