How to Become a Better Writer: Copy the Work of Others!

This week’s blog post is a little different from my usual blog posts. As of today, I will copy the work of others for you and use some other words to write about it! You might be wondering why would someone want that? Well, in our society there are many people who don’t possess the skills or time needed to produce original content but still want their voice heard. In these situations, what they do instead is find a way to provide an accessible means by which they can publish their ideas without actually having any skill themselves- this allows them instant gratification as well as provides more opportunities for those with less apparent talent than them.

If you want to become a better writer, then it is important that you learn how to write by copying the work of others. This will help you not only with your writing skills but also with your creativity. Read more in detail here: learn to write by copying the masters.

As Jeremy explained on Monday, many universities are producing graduates with cognitive abilities that are still severely insufficient after four years of higher education. A deterioration in graduates’ writing ability is notable; one-third of students find little growth in their writing skills from freshman to senior year, and 80% of employers wish universities would place greater focus on this area.

Even if you don’t want to become a professional writer, being able to write effectively is one of the most valuable abilities you can possess. It’s a talent that will come in useful no matter what line of work you end up in, from typing out memos at a firm to writing blog entries for your online shop to preparing grant submissions for your non-profit.

Learning to write better can improve your love notes and your interaction with others, whether via email or handwritten letters, in addition to having professional advantages. Writing is a skill that every individual should strive to perfect and practice throughout his life.

With that in mind, we’ll be releasing blogs on how to improve your writing talents from time to time. None of us on AoM believe ourselves to be master writers, and we’re all working hard to improve. As a result, consider of these blogs as advice from other travelers.

Today, we’ll look at what we believe is the most effective technique to begin improving your writing skills: copying other people’s work. Copywork, as it’s known, was formerly the usual approach for teaching pupils to write, and it’s the “secret” behind the mastery of the trade by many of history’s greatest authors. While it may seem unattractive and uninspired, it works, and we’ll teach you how to get started now.

The Origins of Copywork Vintage student boy doing copy work writing in notebook from his book.

Schools in 18th and 19th century America used copywork as the main method of teaching pupils how to write. It was regarded to be a very successful method of teaching pupils good handwriting, grammar, punctuation, and syntax.

However, schools started to abandon the practice in the twentieth century, concluding that “simple” copying was not the greatest way to teach youngsters how to write correctly. Instead, instructors attempted to impart the underlying methods that make for outstanding writing before releasing pupils to create it.

In principle, this strategy makes sense, but the research described above, as well as my own personal data (98 percent of the guest posts we get – remember these are articles from people who want to write for a job – are abjectly horrible), suggest that it isn’t producing competent authors.

So maybe our forefathers in schooling were on to something after all. On the surface, imitation may seem to be tedious and inefficient, yet it is the fundamental method through which we learn. We learnt to communicate, connect with other people, and walk via imitation when we were newborns. We begin by emulating others while learning an athletic talent. We observe how others behave in various scenarios when we wish to learn how to respond in different situations. Why, therefore, do we avoid copying when it comes to writing?

 

Our contemporary obsession with the notions of originality and creativity is at question, as is our conviction that excellent work of any type will spontaneously emerge from a place of passion inside us. Ironically, many of history’s greatest authors earned that rank by painstakingly replicating the work of others, rather than by appealing to the muses.

Famous Writers Who Used Copywork to Help Them Become Better Writers

Jack london outside in yard writing on paper at desk by hand.

“He recorded every accomplishment obtained by those who had come, and figured out the methods by which they had been attained — the tricks of narrative, exposition, style, points of view, contrasts, and epigrams; and he prepared lists for study of all of them.” He was not an ape. He was looking for ideals. He built up lists of successful and appealing mannerisms, till he was able to induce the general principle of mannerism from a large number of them, selected from a variety of authors, and, thus armed, to seek for fresh and unique ones of his own, and to balance, measure, and rate them appropriately. In the same way, he compiled lists of powerful words, phrases that bit like acid and burnt like flame, or that shined and were soft and sweet in the middle of the barren desert of everyday speech. He was continuously on the lookout for the underlying concept. He wanted to know how it was done so that he could do it himself later. He was dissatisfied with the fairness of beauty’s face. In his cramped little bedroom laboratory, he dissected beauty…and, having dissected and mastered the anatomy of beauty, he was closer to being able to make beautiful itself.” –Martin Eden, Jack London’s alter ego

We frequently assume that history’s greatest authors would simply put pen to paper and wait for exquisite writing to erupt like a geyser from their well of natural skill. Only a genuinely ungifted writer – a true hack – would have to learn to write by mimicking other people, we think.

The reality is that most great authors started by carefully copying the works of the greats who had gone before them in longhand.

They realized that, unlike Athena, one’s writing style does not come completely formed from Zeus’ brain, but must be nurtured. Imitation of another’s style was only a means to a goal in this development process. Great authors turned the basic aspects of others’ style into something distinctively theirs, much like a chef who never stops tasting and studying the delectable meals of other chefs in order to find inspiration to raise his own game and develop his own new recipes.

Here are a few examples of famous authors throughout history who honed their skill via copywork:

Jack London is a well-known author. Jack London was entirely self-taught, and his earliest forays into professional writing resulted in a stack of rejection letters. He was aware that he needed to enhance his writing skills and was prepared to put in the effort till he succeeded.

 

Studying the work of other great authors was an important aspect of the self-improvement program London devised for himself. London appreciated Rudyard Kipling’s style the most of these literary teachers. He would make it his task to transcribe page after page of Kipling’s writings in longhand for hours and days at a time. He sought to imbibe his hero’s rhythmic musicality and forceful cadence, as well as the master’s ability to make “throat-grabbing phrase,” as one contemporaneous reviewer put it.

London’s work was not in vain, as he publicly and gratefully recognized his obligation to this exercise later in his life:

“As for myself, I have a lot of Kipling in my writing.” I’ve even used his words. If it hadn’t been for Kipling, I would never have been able to write in the manner that I did. True, true, true, true, true, true, true, true, true, true, true, true, true

Stevenson, Robert Louis. When the author of Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde determined to learn how to write properly, he reproduced the magnificent writing of those who had gone before him word for word. Stevenson would carefully reread a piece from a great author twice. He’d then flip the page around and attempt to recite it word for word and punctuation mark for punctuation mark from memory. The activity was difficult at first, and his attempts at copies were plagued with faults. With repetition, he was able to read long portions and accurately copy them from memory. Even after achieving literary fame, he resumed the habit.

The way Stevenson conducted his copywork — reading the piece twice and attempting to recreate it from memory — not only helped him understand style and grammar, but it also made him a more attentive reader. Of fact, this simply served to better his writing.

Stevenson had an unusual talent, according to G.K. Chesterton, “to pluck the appropriate word up on the tip of his pen.” Ironically, Stevenson’s uniqueness and keen sense of style were formed via years of meticulous copying.

Benjamin Franklin is a famous American statesman. Benjamin Franklin was a prolific writer as well as an inventor, politician, and publisher. He wrote several magazine pieces and scholarly treatises in addition to his well-known autobiography. Franklin designed a copywork-like practice for himself when he was a youngster to help him grasp the skill of writing:

“Around this time, I came across an unusual book of The Spectator – I thought the writing was superb, and desired to emulate it if possible.”

With this in mind, I took a few of the papers and, in each sentence, left short hints of the sentiment; then, without looking at the book, I attempted to finish the papers by expressing each hinted sentiment at length and as fully as it had been expressed before, in any suitable words that came to hand. After that, I compared my Spectator to the original, found some flaws, and fixed them.

 

But I discovered that I needed a word bank, or the ability to recall and use them quickly. As a result, I transformed some of the stories into poetry and then back into prose after a while, when I had almost forgotten about the prose.

I also mixed up my collections of suggestions from time to time, and after a few weeks, I tried to sort them out into the best order possible before starting to compose entire sentences and finish the article. This was to educate me how to organize my ideas in a methodical manner. By comparing my work to the original, I noticed numerous flaws and corrected them; yet, I sometimes had the pleasure of fantasizing that, in little details, I had been fortunate enough to better the approach or the language.”

Franklin’s copywork practice looked like this instead of reproducing writings word by word:

  1. Examine the essay.
  2. Make a note of every phrase he says and put it away.
  3. Examine his notes and attempt to rewrite the essay in his own words (he’d sometimes muddle his notes to make the assignment even more difficult).
  4. When you compare his rendition to the original, you’ll notice a significant difference.
  5. Improve and revise his version.

Why Copywork Can Help You Improve Your Writing

Young hunters thompson writing on typewriter at desk with tobacco pipe in his mouth.

Hunter S. Thompson learned to write by duplicating The Great Gatsby and A Farewell to Arms on a typewriter while working at Time Magazine before founding Gonzo journalism.

While in law school, I learnt about copywork and utilized it to better my own writing. Franklin’s strategy was similar to mine. I’d get legal memoranda from renowned lawyers, read them, take notes, and then attempt to recreate the memo using the notes. It was really difficult, but definitely worth the effort. That exercise was the most beneficial to my writing.

I wish I’d discovered copywork earlier in my academic career. Before law school, as Kate may confirm, my writing talents were anywhere between decent and terrible. My writing continues to improve as a result of copywork.

Here’s why copywork is so good for improving your writing skills:

Enhances your own style. As you practice copying the greats, you’ll begin to see the many components of their distinct, yet often subtle writing styles. Simultaneously, these great aspects will be incorporated almost quietly into your own style.

It helps you to improve your word choice and syntax. Word choice and syntax are crucial aspects of a writer’s style. As you read and duplicate the work of successful writers by hand, you’ll see how the masters meticulously chose and arrange words for maximum effect. Improving my word choice and syntax has been the most beneficial aspect of copywork for me.

Doing copywork with Hemingway, for example, tends to keep me back on track for making my writing a little punchier if I feel like it’s beginning to become a little bloated. Robert Greene’s writing is another one of my go-to sources when I’m trying to improve my own streamlining skills. I’ll copy out the writings of Jack London if I feel that my writing needs a little more macho fire.

 

Paragraphs should be improved. Many people struggle with two aspects of writing: how to order paragraphs and how to segue from one paragraph to the next. Copywork provides you a detailed look at how outstanding authors structure their ideas.

You could even learn how to grasp the one-sentence paragraph’s potency.

(Did you catch what I did there?)

Spelling, punctuation, and grammar are all improved. Hopefully, you’ll only replicate the works of well-known authors who have had their work meticulously edited and proofread. You’ll get to practice your spelling (which, thanks to spellcheck, is probably bad) as well as the mechanics of proper punctuation and language.

Benefits that aren’t related to writing

Apart from enhancing your writing, copywork has a number of additional advantages:

Improves memory and concentration. If you apply Stevenson’s copywork approach, you’ll undoubtedly increase your memory and attention. Reading a piece twice and then writing it down word for word from memory demands a lot of mental power. When I initially attempted it, I was a complete failure. I was unable to finish even a single phrase. But, with time, one phrase became two, and I was eventually able to recall full paragraphs.

If you’re a student who has to remember their class notes or an outline, you may do it by writing them down over and over again. In law school, I employed this strategy a lot, and I credit it with helping me to remember 20-page outlines for closed book examinations.

It has a contemplative quality about it. Copywork may be highly contemplative, and practitioners of religious faiths have utilized it to enhance their faith.

Every male must copy the Hebrew Torah by hand at least once in his life, according to one of Judaism’s 613 laws. Each of the 304,805 letters in this “Sefer Torah” is written with a quill pen on special parchment. The copywork is done with meticulous care and may take a year and a half to finish in order to guarantee that the transcription is flawless and so respects God.

While Christian monks and priests in the pre-printing press period had no choice but to copy the Bible by hand, they converted the activity into a spiritual meditation, believing that by putting God’s message on parchment, they were also inscribing it on their hearts. (Many Christian homeschooling families have their children perform copywork using Bible passages for the same reason.) In general, copywork is still a common activity among homeschoolers.)

As someone who has done a lot of copywork over the years, I can attest to its meditative qualities. You’ll be bored out of your mind when you first start. With practice, though, you’ll find yourself drifting into a zen-like condition. At the conclusion of your session, the monkey chatter in your head will slow down, and you’ll experience a refreshed feeling of peace. When I’m especially in the zone, I even find myself obtaining insights into the material I’m copying.

Handwriting is improved. Copywork is for you if you wish to enhance your handwriting. It’s how pupils have trained their handwriting since ancient times, and it was widely employed in 18th and 19th century American schools. Take your time with your copywork and concentrate on your writing approach. Each stroke should be purposeful. So be it. If writing a perfectly readable phrase takes five minutes, so be it. You’ll find that your handwriting improves with time and practice.

 

Where Do I Begin?

1. Find a writer who motivates you. Choose authors you don’t believe you should mimic. You’ll be spending a lot of time with these people, so choose someone who has a style that you actually appreciate and who inspires you.

I also suggest picking authors that write both fiction and nonfiction. I perform copywork with non-fiction authors I like and want to imitate since I spend the majority of my time writing non-fiction. I do, however, sometimes include fictitious copywork. It gives my writing a little more oomph, in my opinion.

2. Write by hand. Handwriting has been demonstrated to offer a variety of cognitive advantages in studies. When we write by hand, we really learn more and think more clearly. To get the most out of copywork, resist the urge to type it down on your laptop and instead use a pen and paper.

3. Begin with shorter parts and then progress to larger ones. Don’t begin by rewriting War and Peace. You’ll just exhaust yourself. Begin with shorter sections and work your way up to longer ones. Poems, passages from the Bible, and aphorisms are all terrific places to start. You might also conduct copywork with our manvotionals to develop your writing abilities while also gaining virility. After that, go on to short tales, then whole novels.

4. Make time for it every day. Make copywork, like journal writing, a daily habit. I try to do my right before I start writing for the blog. It starts the writing process.

Don’t be fooled by copywork’s seeming simplicity. If you put in the effort and time, it will work.

 

 

Watch This Video-

Copywork exercises are a great way to improve your writing skills. This can be done by copying the work of others and then editing it to make it your own. Reference: copywork exercises.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do writers copy other writers?

A: This is a difficult question to answer. There are many things that can influence someone’s writing, such as the time and place they were born in or even their upbringing. In some cases people will copy other writers, but not always.

How do you imitate another writer?

A: One way is to try and use their work as inspiration for your own. Another is copying straight from a text source that you find attractive, whether it be written or spoken word.

Does copying improve writing skills?

A: Yes. Writing is almost always improved by copying from other written works and editing accordingly.

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