Writing Models: How Close Study of Top-Notch Writers Can Up Your Game

Marylee MacDonald is the author of MONTPELIER TOMORROW, a novel about caregiving and ALS. Her short story collection, BONDS OF LOVE & BLOOD, was a finalist in the Foreword Reviews' INDIEFAB Awards. Her fiction has won Gold and Silver Medals from Readers' Favorites International Book Awards, the Barry Hannah Prize, the Ron Rash Award, and many others.

Writing models can help you turn a so-so draft into a work of art. In the old days, before bookcases filled with how-to books that made the act of writing seem simpler than it ever is, aspiring writers learned the craft by closely studying the work of other writers. In 1971, after the death of my first husband and six weeks after the birth of my last child, I decided to go to graduate school in Creative Writing.

writing models

In 1971 I had just given birth to my last child and decided to go back to school for a Master’s in English/Creative Writing. After I graduated, I had to put the writing on hold and earn a living, but when the baby went off to college, I discovered that the use of writing models was one of the most valuable lessons I’d learned in grad school. Writing models helped me become a far better writer than I would have become, had I not used them.

San Francisco State was relatively close to Palo Alto, where I had settled and was attempting to figure out how to constitute a life. My plan was to go to grad school, learn how to write, and then get a job teaching writing.

So, there I was, twenty-five, my new baby thirty miles away with a babysitter, and thinking that, over the course of a semester, I could learn to write a novel well enough to teach the craft of fiction to junior college students. In other words, basically clueless. However, looking back at the younger version of myself, I can see that grad school instilled a certain ethos. My lifelong passion for fiction comes from those early days.

Learning from Writing Models

Wright Morris

The fall semester began, and my professor, Wright Morris, ambled into the room,