Copying is Good and Essential

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Dearest Writers,

If you know what’s good for you and you really, really want to be a person who loves writing and wants to get better, you gotta copy. It’s essential.

Love and kisses,

Mrs. Have I Got Your Attention Yet Tom

Ok…so I’m not talking about cheating or plagiarizing. Nah. No way.

We’re talking about practice here, not plagarism - plagarism is trying to pass someone else’s work off as your own. Copying is about reverse-engineering.
— Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist, page 33

Writing under the influence of great writers will inspire you to think in your sweet and sometimes fearful brain, “Oh, la la. I want to try writing like that!”

Remember: Even the Beatles started out as a cover band.
— Austin Kleon, steal like an artist, page 35

One of the reasons all my writing recipes work so well, is that I’m practically making you copy. I borrow things from writers who are killing their craft:

  • first lines

  • last lines

  • in-between lines

  • structures

  • patterns

I hand those things to you on a platter (or via a glowing computer screen) and then say, “Borrow from this master, follow his or her lead, rise to the occasion, but throw in your unique words, stories, and perspectives.”

From the beginning of time, that’s what all sorts of creatives have been doing. Copying is a universal trait of all greats - even athletes like Kobe Bryant.

The basketball star Kobe Bryant has admitted that all of his moves on the court were stolen from watching tapes of his heroes. But initially, when Bryant stole a lot of those moves, he realized he couldn’t completely pull them off because he didn’t have the same body type as the guys he was thieving from. He had to adapt the moves to make them his own.
— Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist, Page 38

We all have to give credit where credit is due, but it’s virtually impossible to copy another writer perfectly because we all have our own voices. We all have our own stories. Like snowflakes, no two are alike.

We want you to take from us. We want you, at first, to steal from us, because you can’t steal. You will take what we give you and you will put it in your own voice and that’s how you will find your voice. And that’s how you begin. And then one day someone will steal from you.
— Francis Ford coppola

The key to growing as a writer is to reflect on the writing you create while under the influence of a master.

  • How is your piece different?

  • What do you love about your piece?

  • What don’t you adore about your piece?

Answers to those questions - over time - will put you in the Land of I’m A Person Who Writes Well!

Finally, copying works because it reduces brain strain!

Borrowing an opening line, or the structure for a poem, removes one task from your brain when you’re trying to figure out just the right words that convey the meaning of the story you want to tell.

Writing is hard, and when you’re trying to become a better writer, it’s good to begin with some training wheels that eventually get removed so you can soar on your own.

So be a copy cat!

It’s what all the cool cats are doing these days!

Always writing,


P.S. Next Tuesday, I’ll be posting a bit more about why my lovely writing recipes are so super duper awesome. It’s all about ownership, choice, and writing from plenty.