Writing lessons from a famous painter’s journey

I don’t usually read books like Franny Moyle’s Turner: The Extraordinary Life & Momentous Times of J.M.W. Turner. But I shook up my routine during an out-of-town vacation. As I read about the artistic education of Turner, a barber’s son who became one of Britain’s greatest painters, my mind flashed to lessons for writers, especially bloggers.

Turner took lessons from other painters. Writers should do this, too. But that isn’t the lesson that struck me. Instead, I was intrigued by the role of copying. “In addition to views he worked up from his own sketches, Turner copied published work by other living artists to sell in his father’s shop,” writes Moyle.

I’m not suggesting that you copy other people’s writing. I certainly don’t want you to plagiarize. However, before long, Turner started using copies as the foundation for experiments. For example, while working within outlines set by an artist named Cozens, Turner “reverses Cozen’s scheme, placing in light what the artist had placed in shade and vice versa, altering the drama of the view,” writes Moyle.

Can you do a Turner on a blog post that you admire?

Here are some ideas for how to achieve that.

1. Copy the structure, not the content

Study the structure of a blog you admire. See if you can apply that structure to a different topic.

For example, if you read a great post about “5 ways to save more for retirement,” analyze it to see why it works. Then, you can apply what you learn to a different topics, such as “5 ways to get the most out of your homeowner’s insurance.”

2. Turn dark into light

Turner literally turned dark into light in Moyle’s example.

You can metaphorically change dark to light by writing, for example, about the upside of indexed annuities after you’ve read an article about their drawbacks.

3. Change perspective

Turner sometimes changed the perspective from which he viewed iconic sights. Or, he inserted people or cows where he’d seen none in real life.

You can mix up your perspective too. Instead of viewing an investment product through the eyes of your typical client, discuss it from the perspective of a broker who puts commissions above all else. Or, take the perspective of an investor in a very specific situation who might benefit from that product.

Looking at how others write—and putting your own twist on their writing can help you generate new topics and new approaches to tired topics. Try it!

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