Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 7, 2020

Guest Blog Post: The Writing Tip-Off, and… by Gail Wood Miller – Plus, Book Winners

Book Winners: 

Shelly Latinovich won RACCOON’S PERFECT SNOWMAN by Katia Wish

Natosha Miller won WHAT THEY DON’T TEACH YOU ART SCHOOL by Will Terry

Donna Maire Taylor won TAILS FROM THE ANIMAL SHELTER by Stephanie Shaw


The Writing Tip-Off, and…

by Gail Wood Miller copyright 2020

A long time ago, when I was a journalism major, a guest lecturer visited our feature writing class, an editor of a leading slick magazine. He looked a little like a young Joel Grey—short, slender, elfin, dark hair; in a white shirt, dark tie and suit, as I remember—and quite lively. His eyes widened as he told us, “The best advice I can give you is to copy.” Copy the work of a writer you admire. You’ll pick up their rhythm, flow, how they use description, how they anticipate a reader’s questions—their style. Then you can springboard from that to further your own writing.

Edwin Albee was already a playwright—Zoo Story (1958) and The Sandbox (1959)–when he felt the need to perfect his art. He copied Lillian Hellman’s Little Foxes three times. Then he went on to write Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? We know whom he really meant. That play won a Grammy for the Best Spoken Word Album. A few years later, he won the first of three Pulitzers, for Three Tall Women. Other awards followed suit, with a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2005.

For those of us writing for children, this can apply whether we’re continuing writing for the same age group and modality, or if we’re expanding our oeuvre. Do we want to explore poetry? Writing for young adults? Get into historical fiction? I relied on models as I was writing my first young adult novel, Good Girl (Lasso, 2016). I was wowed by Mildred D. Taylor’s classic Roll of Thunder, Hear Me Cry (1976; Dial, 2016), and moved by Jacqueline Kelly’s The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate (Henry Holt, 2015).

I had already applied the copy approach to painting. (Writing can be another form of drawing, as many of us tend to think in pictures.) I wanted to learn how to replicate woodcuts. I found an example in a newspaper ad of a newspaper boy, vest open, hat slightly askance as he turned his head, holding copies of papers. I copied the illustration 12 times. I went on to painting, in black watercolor, a rather long series of children in this style.

Purr-fect your style. Be a copycat.


Gail Wood Miller is a health and education coach and consultant, focusing on women and children. She researches, speaks, and writes on learning differences. Her young adult novel Good Girl (Lasso, 2016) is a disguised self-help book; she also did the cover art. She is retired professor of English and humanities from Berkeley College, and professor (adjunct) of English education from Hunter College, City University of New York. She is a member of the Musconetcong Watercolor Group and the Garden State Watercolor Society.

Author of How to Study: Use Your Personal Learning Styles (under Gail Wood, for Learning Express/Random House, 2000), and articles on learning differences, she presents at local, national, and international conferences.

As a health coach and an ADHD coach, she focuses on women, children, and adolescents.

Awards include Berkeley College Outstanding Teacher of Humanities, Online, and co-winner of the MacBeth Award for Computing in the Humanities.  She is an inducted member of the International Honor Society in Education, Kappa Delta Pi (Beta Pi chapter, New York University), and the national drama fraternity, Delta Psi Omega.  Honors also include inclusion in 2000 Outstanding Women in the 20th Century.

Her doctorate is in English education from New York University.  She has taught pre-college through graduate English, English education, and other humanities courses.  She is certified by the Institute of Integrative Nutrition as an holistic health coach, and by the ADD Coach Academy as an ADHD coach.

Good Girl, based on her published research (“What makes the ‘Good Girl’ Good May Not be Good: Uncovering Hypoactivity in the Classroom,” in Our Bodies, Ourselves: The EmBODYment of Women’s Literacy, edited by Mev Miller and Kathleen P. King. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, 2011), is her first novel.

Gail lives in Manhattan with her husband.  She is an amateur watercolorist who likes hiking and loves being with their children and grandchildren.


Gail, thank you for sharing this with everyone. It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about this trick to train your brain to understand the rhythm of a book you admire. 

For those new to the industry: This is a good technique, but be careful not to end up copying a scene or sentence into your own writing.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Congrats winners! Enjoy those books. And much thanks, Gail, for the excellent suggestions for getting our brains to play and learn different rhythms and styles. I know one thing I do is study mentor books (picture books that have something in common with what I am writing at the time, theme, structure, language, and other sorts of things). It really helps! Thank you, Gail!


  2. I am so excited to have won!!! Thanks! Also, what a great post. I have actually never heard that advice before about copying to train your brain and then springboard from that! What an awesome bit of advice! As always, thank you for the wonderful help! P.S. Do I need to do anything further for the book? I am just so excited!!!


  3. Great post, Gail! I have practiced this advice of re-typing the text and page breaks (also line breaks) of those texts I particularly admire for many years. It helps me see what the pacing really looks like and where the plot turn occurs, plus I can more clearly see the choices in syntax and rhythm and their effects. I highly recommend the practice! Thank you so much!


  4. Great article, Gail 😀 and THANK you for the win! 😀 😀 😀


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