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UpWrite Press understands the importance of writing skills in business: We're business people just like you. On this blog you'll find tips to improve your writing, along with topics of interest to our staff.

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    Mastery via Imitation

    Wednesday, July 02, 2014

    "Smile" photo from MeytalCohen.com

    Recently, on Facebook, I stumbled across drummer Meytal Cohen’s excellent cover—with Jennifer Lynn and Christine Wu on electric violins—of System of a Down’s “Toxicity.” It led me down a rabbit hole of other drum covers by Cohen, ultimately to discover that she left Israel at age 21 to pursue a dream of making music in Los Angeles. What’s significant here is that she mastered her trade by carefully listening to and modeling the performance of drummers she admired. In August of 2013, she leveraged that skill to an extremely successful Kickstarter project to fund her own original album.

    This reminded me of reading that Hunter S. Thompson once transcribed, on typewriter, both The Great Gatsby and A Farewell to Arms, just to get a feel for what it meant to write a great novel. Or to quote William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well, “Writing is learned by imitation. If anyone asked me how I learned to write, I’d say I learned by reading the men and women who were doing the kind of writing I wanted to do and trying to figure out how they did it.”

    Similarly, educators often assign “sentence modeling” to students as a way to have them absorb effective constructions and styles. The students choose sentences they admire, then rewrite them with different words while preserving the original structure.

    As Lynn Gaertner-Johnson points out in “Copy What Works,” the same strategy can both save us time at work and lead us to mastery of business writing. By modeling our own writing on other successful documents in our workplace, we shortcut the writing process, while simultaneously training ourselves to write most effectively.

    So don’t be afraid to use writing templates. Just be sure to adjust their contents to the current needs of your project.

    —Lester Smith