Using imitation to learn writing skills

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Did you know that many famous writers improve their writing skills by imitating the work of others? But even if you do not plan to become a professional writer, being able to write well is an important skill that you should have. One of these writers is the well-known Robert Louis Stevenson who decided to copy word for word the great works of writers before him, so that he can learn how to really write. He read a passage twice and then tried to reproduce it from memory. It took a lot of work until he was able to read lengthy passages and reproduce them without a flaw.

How can copywork help you become a better writer?

Improving your style

Copywork will help you notice the differences in styles and their unique and subtle characteristics, which in time will become part of your own style.

Improving word choice and syntax

You will start noticing how great writers carefully chose and arranged words to achieve maximum impact. Whenever you feel that your writing starts getting a little boring, do copywork with the authors you admire to get better at streamlining your own.

Improving paragraphs

One of the main problems I had was with organizing paragraphs and making the transition between them. Imitation gives you a view on how great authors organize their thoughts.

Improving spelling, punctuation, and grammar

By copying the work of established writers, that has been rigorously proofread and edited, you will practice your spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

Improving memory and focus

If you adopt Stevenson’s method, you will definitely improve your memory and your focus. You need good cognitive strength to be able to read a whole paragraph and then write it from memory word for word. When I first tried doing this, it was a complete failure. Before my self-publishing career kicked in, started with one sentence and then slowly progressed.

How to Get Started with imitation practice

First, you have to choose a writer that you admire and whose style inspires you. I recommend you to choose authors from both fiction and non-fiction, so that you become familiar with both styles. Start imitating them using a pen and paper not typing on your computer. Studies have shown that handwriting offers a multitude of benefits for your brain and overall health, also helping you think clearer and learn better. This imitation exercise is meant to help you develop your writing skills, so make the most of it!

I advise you to start with shorter passages or only one sentence and then slowly increase to longer pieces. If you start with long and complex paragraphs, you will burn out and become frustrated. You can start with aphorisms, scripture verses, and poems and then move to short stories and whole books.

The secret is to do this every day, just like journal writing. I usually do this in the morning, before I start my writing sessions.

Do not think that anyone can do copywork and that it’s just a waste of time. You will see its benefits only if you put in time and effort.

1 thought on “Using imitation to learn writing skills”

  1. Great tips, thank you. A tip I give aspiring authors regarding the kind of flow between paragraphs is to have them write up an imaginary (or real) announcement of an upcoming event. I set a 175/200 word minimum/max. They are not aware that I am going to take a pair of scissors and cut the last three or four lines saying, “That’s all the room I have to post this.” We then work on several factors. Important or dynamic information first, then the lesser details, finally the portion that can be sacrificed. although that is a common lesson for other aspects of writing, I show them how that improved transition or flow from paragraph to paragraph.

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