Make a mentor of your favorite writer
Did you ever take your mom’s toaster apart to figure out how it worked?
You can do the same thing with writing.
It’s called modeling the masters: studying the best writing out there for technique, form and process, then incorporating what you’ve learned into your own copy. It’s the best way I know to polish your skills.
To get started, choose a piece of writing you love. Then take it apart and put it back together until you understand why you like it and what the writer did to make it that way.
In my clip file, for instance, I have a short piece about Las Vegas from Time magazine. I collected it for a single sentence:
“Lounge music may be to the symphony
what Velveeta is to cheese — but hey! —
it’s all part of what make Las Vegas great.”
Take it apart.
Here’s what I love about that passage:
- The analogy format (blank is to blank what blank is to blank)
- The word “Velveeta” (cheesy brand names are always fun)
- The full sentence with an exclamation point between the dashes
Identify the template.
So now you know what to do: Write a sentence with two comparisons compared to each other, a cheesy brand name and a full sentence with an explanation point between dashes in the middle. The template looks like this:
“Blank may be to blank what (funny brand name) is to blank — hypershort sentence! — something.”
Put it back together.
When I asked participants in a workshop to model that passage, they came up with:
“Youth hostels may be to the Hyatt what love beads are to diamonds — but hey! — it’s all part of what makes your Adventures Ltd. vacation great.”
“Facilities Management may be to corporate America what ‘Baywatch’ is to ‘Masterpiece Theater’ — but hey! — facilities don’t manage themselves.”
I’m not really sure that second one works. But I do know this: You’ll see me write “something may be to something what ‘Baywatch’ is to ‘Masterpiece Theater'” before the year is out.
Try it yourself.
Now I’ve got one for you to model — this passage from Loren D. Estleman’s The Midnight Man:
“It was one of those gummy mornings we get all through July and August, when the warm wet towel on your face is the air you’re breathing, and the headache you wake up with is the same one you took to bed the night before. Milk turns in the refrigerator. Doors swell. Flies clog the screens gasping for oxygen. Everything you touch sticks, including the receiver you pick up just to stop the bell from jangling loose your tender brain.”
Take it apart. Find the template. Then use the template to write your own passage using Estlemen’s techniques.
Email me the best Estleman by April 21, and I’ll send you a little surprise.