How to Write a Modern Love (That Stands a Chance)

Update November 22, 2022: Hello Readers! In 2015 I hosted the How to Write a Modern Love Teleseminar with guest speakers New York Times Modern Love Editor Dan Jones and six Modern Love writers (You can see the original post about this event below). Just this week, I launched a new course that walks writers through every step of writing a Modern Love essay from idea generating to writing and structuring and revising to submitting. Learn more about the course here. Questions: Email me at

Here’s what one participant had to say about the 2015 How to Write a Modern Love Teleseminar: “This was one of the most wonderful, insightful, and useful seminars I’ve attended in a long time. Thank you so much for doing it and to Dan and all the writers who share their knowledge and experience and tips.”

The Modern Love column with its stories of love, loss, and redemption has become a staple of our Sunday reading over the last decade. We share our favorites on social media and keep bits of wisdom from those oh-so-personal essays in our collective memory. And a great number of us writers dream of seeing our stories spread out there in the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times right beside one of those lovely signature Brian Rea illustrations. In fact, 5000 plus essayists each year send their work into Modern Love. Yet, there are only 52 weeks in a year, and only just that many essays can make it into the column that has turned many a writer into an author with a book contract. So, what is it that makes a potential Modern Love essay jump out of the slush pile and into print? This is the topic of my upcoming teleseminar, “How to Write a Modern Love,” in which I will be interviewing Dan Jones and six Modern Love alums on this topic and giving my own insights as well.

Thanks to a bit of luck, an essay of mine was selected before the first Modern Love column went live back in November 2004, and so I avoided the heavy competition and can’t say that my own experience with writing my essay has been especially helpful in guiding others. But since then, I’ve read many essays of Modern Love aspirants who didn’t make the cut. I’ve also had several students who’ve had their essays published in Modern Love, and so I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about what makes a great Modern Love essay and how to write one that will catch the eye of the column’s editor, Daniel Jones.

During the How to Write a Modern Love teleseminar, I will be offering writing advice on how to take a Modern Love story from idea to submission and insights into trends in the column. Modern Love Editor Daniel Jones will be on the call sharing secrets of the editorial process and advice for writers, and Modern Love alumni Mandy Len Catron, Veronica Chambers, K.K. Goldberg, E. J. Levy, Peter Mountford, and Margot Page (see full bios below) will all do cameo guest spots in which they will share their experience and insights. The How to Write a Modern Love teleseminar will be held on Sunday, March 22nd from 1pm to 3pm Pacific Time.

During this two hour seminar, I will talk about some of the commonalities of successful Modern Love essays and tips for writing an essay that “feels like a Modern Love.” I will bring six Modern Love essayists for short 5-10 minute guest spots in which they will talk about some of what worked for them and the following techniques for writing a successful essay:

-Making the connection between your life experience and a timely topic

-Simplifying a complex story

-Making sure the modern is in your Modern Love

-Recognizing the cadence common to the Modern Love essay

-Using a central metaphor to give your story coherence (without, you know, extending the metaphor too far)

-Finding an angle or hook for your Modern Love essay

-Allowing yourself to be vulnerable on the page (without, um, TMI )

-Making the most of the 1600 words, writing a great lede, and following up with a well paced story

-Creating a satisfying ending (even when your experience was less than satifying)

-Discovering extraordinary Modern Love stories in your ordinary life

Want to read some insights into the Modern Love column while you’re waiting for March 22nd? Check out this recent essay by Daniel Jones.

theoHow to Write a Modern Love teleseminar host: Theo Pauline Nestor is the author of Writing Is My Drink: A Writer’s Story of Finding Her Voice (And a Guide to How You Can Too) (Simon & Schuster, 2013) and How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed: A Memoir of Starting Over (Crown, 2008), which was selected by Kirkus Reviews as a 2008 Top Pick for Reading Groups and as a Target “Breakout Book.” An award-winning instructor, Nestor has taught the memoir certificate course for the University of Washington’s Professional & Continuing Education program since 2006 and also teaches at Hugo House in Seattle. Nestor also produces events for writers such as the Wild Mountain Memoir Retreat, Bird by Bird & Beyond, and the Black Mesa Writers’ Intensive, featuring talks by writers such as Anne Lamott, Cheryl Strayed, Julia Cameron, and Natalie Goldberg. You can follow her on Facebook here and on Twitter @theopnestor. You can read her Modern Love essay here.

Guest Speakers:

dan jonesDaniel Jones has edited the Modern Love column in the Sunday Styles section of The New York Times since its inception in 2004. His books include the recent bestseller Love Illuminated: dans bookExploring Life’s Most Mystifying Subject (with the Help of 50,000 Strangers), two essay anthologies—“Modern Love” and “The Bastard on the Couch”—and a novel, “After Lucy,” which was a finalist for the Barnes & Noble Discover Award. He lives in Northampton, Massachusetts with his wife, writer Cathi Hanauer, and their two children.

mandy len catronMandy Len Catron is a writer living in Vancouver, BC. She teaches English and Creative Nonfiction at the University of British Columbia. Her Modern Love column, “To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This” was the most viewed and most shared New York Times article for January 2015. She’s currently working on an essay collection about the dangers of love stories. For more, check out her website  and her blog.

veronica chambersVeronica Chambers is a prolific author, best veronica bookknown for her critically acclaimed memoir Mama’s Girl and the New York Times Bestseller Yes Chef, which she co-authored with chef Marcus Samuelsson. In 2012 Yes Chef won the prestigious James Beard literary award and was a NY Times bestseller. In 2014, she co-authored a second bestseller, Everybody’s Got Something with GMA host, Robin Roberts. Her Modern Love essay “Loved and Lost?” It’s O.K., Especially if You Win” was published in the New York Times in February 2006.

kathrynA MacDowell Fellow and MFA graduate, K.K. Goldberg’s writing has appeared in the New York Times, and in numerous literary journals and anthologies, including The Sun, The Gettysburg Review, The Alaska Quarterly Review, and Best Women’s Travel Writing 2009. Her book, The Doctor and The Stork: A Memoir of Modern Medical Babymaking, is forthcoming in October 2015. Her 2011 Modern Love piece, “A Little Lint and Suddenly You’re Bridezilla,” is about how a lawsuit over her destroyed wedding dress brought her family together almost more than the wedding itself.

EJ Levy head shot 1E. J. Levy’s writing has appeared in Paris Review, Best American Essays, and received a Pushcart Prize. Her debut story collection, Love, In Theory, Love In Theory coverwon a 2012 Flannery O’Connor Award and 2014 GLCA New Writers Award (previously awarded to Alice Munro, Louise Erdrich, and Mary Szybist for their first books); she teaches in Colorado. Her Modern Love essay “After a Parent’s Death, a Rush of Courage” appeared in the New York Times in November 2013.

Peter Headshot_Less Close_2013Peter Mountford’s debut novel A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism won a 2012 Washingtondismal jpeg State Book Award, and his second novel The Dismal Science, released last year, was a NYT editor’s choice. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, Best New American Voices 2008, Granta, Southern Review, and elsewhere. He is on faculty at Sierra Nevada College’s low-residency MFA program. His Modern Love essay, “How I Came to Live in the Chair Emporium” appeared in the New York Times on January 15, 2015.

margot page - author photo b-wMargot Page’s work has recently appeared PagePI_FrontCoverin The New York Times, Brain, Child and the Huffington Post. She is the creator of the popular Dear Drudgery column on the Brain, Mother blog and the author of a memoir, Paradise Imperfect: An American family moves to the Costa Rican mountains (11/13, Yellow House Press). Margot lives, works and writes in Seattle. Her Modern Love column, “Labels of Married Life, in a New Light,” was a married heterosexual’s take on how marriage equality enriched her own vision of marriage roles.

Frequently Asked Questions About my Teleseminars and Webinars:

How does it work? At 1pm Pacific on March 22nd, you will call in or log in to the GoToMeeting conference call number that you will be emailed after payment.

The logistics: Shortly after you pay via Pay Pal, you’ll be sent a confirmation email with a link to the register on the telesminar’ s GoToMeeting page. You will attend the teleseminar over the phone or online through As long as you can dial in, you’ll be able to hear the teleseminar. If you miss the class (or want to listen to it again), the recording will be available for you to listen to at your convenience.

What if I miss the class? The day after the teleseminar, you’ll receive a link to a recording of the teleseminar, which you can listen to at anytime over the next year.

What if I want to ask a question before I register? Email me at

Can I pay by check or money order? Yes, email me at for instructions.

About Theo Pauline Nestor

Author of Writing Is My Drink (Simon & Schuster) and How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed. Learn more about my courses, editing, and coaching at
This entry was posted in Modern Love, More Stuff for Writers, teleseminars, Writing Tips and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to How to Write a Modern Love (That Stands a Chance)

  1. Pingback: Nutgrafs for Memoirs and Personal Essays | Writing Is My Drink

  2. Pingback: Spring News from Theo | Writing Is My Drink

  3. John Hollins says:

    Thanks for this list, I’ll definitely pursue writing a personal essay. I’ve got some ideas that I’d like to develop.

  4. Pingback: How to Write a Memoir Book Proposal (That Stands a Chance) | Writing Is My Drink

  5. Pingback: Memoir Book Proposal Webinar this Sunday! | Writing Is My Drink

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