What’s the value of a writing model? (video)

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The Write Question is a weekly video podcast all about writing. Today’s question? What’s the value of a writing model. If you have a question you’d like me to answer you can email me, tweet me @pubcoach, or leave a message for me at the Skype account, The Write Question.


What’s the value of having a writing model? That’s the topic I’m addressing today in The Write Question. I’m Daphne Gray-Grant, the Publication Coach, still in pandemic mode. 

I have a question from Rosie Yassmin, a graduate student based in Melbourne, Australia. Here’s what she’s asked by email.

“I know you’ve spoken a number of times about the importance of having a ‘model’ for writing. Can you tell me a bit more about what you mean by that? And how will it help my writing? ” 

Thanks for your question Rosie. You’re right: I have long advocated having a “model” for everything you want to write. There are three main reasons why:

1) Models help you understand exactly what you’re trying to do. As the old joke in the newspaper business goes: editors are people who don’t know what they want until they see it. Clients are pretty much the same. They are usually imprecise, often vague, and always impatient. But do you know what? We’re often that way OURSELVES. Let’s imagine you’re writing a book or a dissertation. Won’t it be easier for you to visualize the structure you want and the amount of work you need to do if you can see how someone else has handled the task? 

2) Models give you a precise measuring stick. Many people read a piece of writing and yet don’t understand why they like — or dislike — it. With a model in hand, you can run readability stats (available free in MS Word or various piece of software, like ProWritingAid, see link below) and understand specifically what the writer has done. For example, with a model, you can see the grade level the client is aiming for. You can determine average sentence length. You can see how much passive voice the model author has used. Then, even without software, you can also examine more subtle measurements. These include use of metaphor,  concrete versus abstract language and “voice.” This knowledge is power and you can use it to guide your writing. 

3) Models make it possible for you, the writer, to gain “instant understanding.” You know the old saying “a photo is worth a thousand words”? Well sometimes a thousand words can also behave like a photo. When you read a piece, put it down and ask yourself, “What impression did I get from that?” You’re having what I call a “snapshot reaction.” You’re considering the ineffables: tone, feeling and mood. You’re noticing the forest instead of the trees. If you want to learn how to sound like your model author, then I’d suggest you spend some time copying it. See link in the show notes to my blog post on becoming a copy cat. 

Now, one other question you didn’t ask, Rosie, relates to the number of models you’ll want. For some people, it will be difficult to find one piece of writing that’s able to be a model. If that describes your situation, understand that there’s nothing wrong with finding two or three models. Pick as many as you need to be able to provide you with some useful guidelines for your own writing. 

You can identify these models based on suggestions from friends, colleagues, clients, classmates or your own reading. The source is not hugely important. The main issue is to identify what you can learn from your models. 

Finally, let me wrap up with a quote from

Irish playwright and poet Oliver Goldsmith: “People seldom improve when they have no other model but themselves to copy.” 

Rosie, finding a good model is almost like finding a shortcut. The other writer will have dealt with some of the same challenges you’re facing and you may be able to use their solutions wholesale — or adapt them to face your own particular circumstances. In fact, having a good model is a little bit like having your own personal writing coach. 


If you’d like to learn more about how to make writing a happier and more rewarding process, check out my latest book Your Happy First Draft. I don’t sell it in bookstores or via Amazon. The only place to buy it is on my website, link on the screen below and in the show notes.  


ProWriting Aid

Why you should become a copy cat 

Your Happy First Draft 

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