Want to write better? Break down—and rebuild—your favorite prose in 3 steps

The authors you love can show you how it’s done. Take apart and analyze their work; it’ll help make yours stronger.

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.”

Study the best writing you can find for technique, form and process. Then incorporate what you’ve learned in 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 makes Las Vegas great.”

Take it apart

Here’s what I love about that passage:

Identify the template

So now you know what to do: Write a sentence with two comparisons that are, in turn, 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.”

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