Writer’s Series - Volume 5: Copy That!

Have you ever thought, “Wow, I wish I could write like that…” Well, maybe you can? Or at least get a lot closer than you think. 


Today we are going to talk about an age-old method for developing and honing your writing style.  It’s called copy work.

We all have our favorite authors.  Most of us are attracted to a certain style of language.  It’s easy to read. The words flow. The information transfer from the authors pen to our brain comes easy.  The time flies by. The phrase “getting lost in a good book” comes to mind. But just how did that author develop that certain style that connects with us so easily?


Think about how people learn anything. A great composer of music doesn’t start by writing a brilliant symphony or hit song. They first learn to play other’s music. Same for a great chef. Before coming up with their own Michelin star worthy recipes, they first learn to cook the classics. Historically, writing has been learned the same way.


Going all the way back too antiquity, young writers first copied classic pieces of literature. Before the printing press, this also served the very practical purpose of producing another copy of the book! But copy work has held its value through the centuries as a way for authors to learn the craft. Famous writers like Hunter S. Thompson and Jack London were known to have copied the works of authors they admired to understand their techniques.


Not only can copy work help you develop your writing voice, it’s also a great way to warm up when starting to write. Just like stretching the legs before a run, grabbing a copy of an admired authors work and handwriting a couple paragraphs can really get you in the flow.

Here's how it typically works:


1. Choose a Text: Select a piece of writing that exemplifies the style, tone, or approach you want to learn. This could be a passage from a favorite author, an article, or any other form of writing that you admire and wish to emulate.


2. Copy the Text by Hand: Write the text out by hand, word for word. This slow, deliberate process forces you to pay attention to the details of the writing, such as word choice, sentence structure, rhythm, and pacing. Typing can also be beneficial, but handwriting is recommended because it engages the brain more fully.


3. Analyze the Text: Pay attention to how the author constructs sentences, uses vocabulary, and develops ideas or characters. Notice the nuances in the writing style, such as the use of metaphors, similes, or any other literary devices.


4. Reflect and Apply: Think about how the author achieves certain effects with their writing and consider how you can incorporate similar techniques into your own work. Experiment with writing your own content that mimics the style of the text you’ve copied, trying to replicate the tone, pacing, and other stylistic elements.


5. Repeat Regularly: Copy work is most effective when done consistently over time. Regular practice can help internalize various aspects of good writing, gradually improving your own style.


The goal of copy work is not to plagiarize or mimic another author, but rather to practice and absorb successful writing techniques that can enhance your own writing skills. It's a way to deeply understand and internalize the craft of writing through close examination and repetition.


The next time you need to write but are feeling stuck, give this tried-and-true exercise a shot. Nothing breeds momentum like action. And copy work can be a great way to get moving!

Written By

Chris Prince

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