What Marilyn Monroe taught me about writing

I hadn’t painted since elementary school when I went to the Paint Monkey during a vacation in Pittsburgh. My goal? To paint a fill-in-the-outlines portrait of Marilyn Monroe like everyone else in the class. The result? I was reminded of some important lessons that apply to writing.

1. Showing personality helps

I made Marilyn Monroe’s face purple and her lips yellow because I was feeling rebellious. I “knew” my painting would be awful, so I decided to make it outrageously colored. To my surprise, some of my friends “liked” the photo when I posted it on social media. Sometimes showing personality works.

I’ve written about showing personality in your blog posts in “How to add personality and warmth to your financial writing–Part one” and “Part two.”

2. You can benefit from following someone else’s structure

My painting of Marilyn Monroe is recognizably Marilyn, thanks to my painting in between the lines on the canvas provided by the studio. Believe me, my freehand attempt at painting Marilyn would look nothing like her.

Following a model when you write can provide similar results. My favorite model is to define a problem and then provide a solution. I elaborate on this in “Make your writing easier with my fill-in-the-blanks approach for structuring articles.” You’ll find another model in “Blogging with James B. Stewart of The New York Times.”

3. You learn by doing and re-doing

I made mistakes painting Marilyn, starting with mixing my paint colors. If I could do it over, I’d do a better job. I learned from my mistakes.

Do-overs are easier in writing. You don’t need to buy another canvas or tubes of paint. Just open up the file on your computer and start typing.