Canin copied John Cheever paragraphs out to learn what made the man (and his writing tick), and discovered a natural progression from quotitian detail to grand epiphany:
In my creative writing class I decided that I would write like John Cheever, that I would seek those elongated phrases, those elided leaps into the world of ardor and transcendence and unearthed human longing that shone in his stories like gems beneath a stream. How far superior this raw emotion seemed to me. How much more profound and complex a truth.
In Cheever I found rejuvenation, found his unbridled emotion electrifying. I began typing out some of Cheever’s great paragraphs. [...]
I suppose this was as important an exercise as I have ever performed.
I discovered two things: first, that Cheever’s great, epiphanic leaps were almost invariably preceded (and followed, it turned out) by paragraphs that accumulated small, accurate detail. Initially, this seemed like a profoundly important discovery to me. [...]
But this alone did not make what I’d written much better, and it was here that I made my second, although admittedly in Cheever’s case, unproved discovery: that the progression from detail to epiphany is not a technique used merely for its effect on the reader, but that this method is in fact how a writer discovers his own material.
This changed my writing forever. To put it another way: I had chanced upon the discovery that for the writer it is not moral pondering or grand emotion that are the entrance to a story, but detail and small event. The next story I wrote I started not with the feeling of grandeur that had been my inspiration before, but with a narrowed concentration.
More how we work.