GROWING UP IN DETROIT IN THE 1970s and '80s, Veronica Webb liked to watch great fighters Hill like Muhammad Ali and Tommy Hearns training in local gyms. Today, for a supermodel who wants her sentence structure to earn as much admiration as her bone structure, the boxers still offer inspiration. "They worked hard and they were winners," says Webb, 33. "Writing also takes beaucoup discipline and hard work."

A top model for the likes of Chanel and Revlon, Webb is becoming a literary contender too, thanks to pieces in magazines like Esquire and Details. Her first book, Veronica Webb Sight: Adventures in the Big City (Hyperion), is a collection of essays on such topics as Mike Tyson, Spike Lee, sexuality and fashion politics. "I'm considered a writer," Webb marvels. "It tickles me."

The youngest of three daughters born to Doug, an electrician who died in 1993, and Marion, a nurse, Webb graduated in 1983 from Detroit's Waldorf School. Moving to New York City to study design the same year, Webb got her modeling start after a makeup artist saw her in a housewares boutique. But even as she scaled the fashion ladder, Webb—a voracious reader whose faves include James Baldwin and Jorge Luis Borges—built a career as a writer. "She just trains her sights on something," says sister Jennifer Holt, an oncologist in Southfield, Mich., "and goes for it full force."

Once linked romantically to Robert De Niro, Webb dreams of a husband and kids ("That's something you just can't order up," she says) and shares her Manhattan apartment with Hercules, her dachshund. While her modeling days may someday dwindle, Webb feels she has the muscle and will to go the distance as a writer. Looking ahead to future projects, she says firmly, "I have tons of ideas."