Mentor texts: beautiful thoughts beautifully wrought

Hi everyone,

Ruth Culham My friend Ruth Culham has written many fine books but one of my favorites is THE WRITING THIEF. It’s about how we improve our own writing by paying attention to the excellent writing of others. Ruth says, “I am always on the hunt for mentor texts, and because I’m a reader and a writer, I find great stuff.” Then she gives us a brilliant book filled with examples and narrative about how to profit from the expertise of the best writers out there.

At the moment I’m rereading SHADOWS OF FORGOTTEN ANCESTORS, A SEARCH FOR WHO WE ARE, a book by astrophysicist Carl Sagan and his wife Ann Druyan, a novelist and Secretary of the Federation of American Scientists. You don’t know who wrote what because they both write prose at the highest level. But I want to share an example of my “theft” and ask you to post some of your own examples of prose by others that have made you sit back and say, “Wow!”

Here is the Sagon/Druyan voice explaining the difficulties of organic forms dealing with oxygen, on page 121-122. “Now oxygen is a peculiar molecule. We breath it, depend on it, die without it, and so naturally have a good opinion of it. . . . But as a blazing log or a burning coal reminds us, oxygen is dangerous. Given a little encouragement, it can vandalize the intricate, painstakingly evolved structure of organic matter . . . . Oxygen is a poison for organic molecules and doubtless was poisonous to the beings of the ancient Earth. . . . . Either you adapted to the oxygen, or you hid from it, or you died. Many died. Some reconciled themselves to live underground, or in marine muds, or in other environments where the deadly oxygen could not reach.”

Their subject here is usually presented straight forwardly as so many facts. But Sagan/Druyan bothered to give us a lesson on how facts can be brought to life, how something that happened in the mists of ancient time can seem relevant, understandable, and worth reading about.

The floor is open. Who has inspired you?

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4 comments on “Mentor texts: beautiful thoughts beautifully wrought

  1. I appreciate Ruth’s work, too. Thanks for the Writing Thief recommendation! I find different texts helpful at different times depending on the creative problem at hand. I don’t usually go looking for those texts, but they find me when I need them. And when the solution strikes, I exclaim, “Aha! THAT’s how it’s done!”

    • That’s frequently the case for me, too Jane. While researching for an article or book I’ll run across something so beautifully rendered that I take the time to pause and give silent thanks to the author.

  2. The Writing Thief stole my heart, that’s for sure. And clearly it’s stolen yours, David. Great book, for sure…

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