Word count: 355 Reading time: 1-2 mins
In her Novel Immersion Workshop in 2009, Pearl Luke mentioned that when she finds a novel she admires, she often types certain passages, verbatim, to get a feel for that writer’s magic. That comment chilled me because I thought if I did the same thing then surely I’d end up plagiarizing, unintentionally or otherwise. A few years down the road two different writing coaches advised me to copy-type from novels in my genre as a method of learning what works.
Could so many experts be wrong? I decided not and opened a book by YA writer John Green and started typing. I soon realized enormous inspiration lies not just in reading good writers but in mimicking them, at least for a short while. “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to,” said Jean-Luc Godard.
Now I copy-type every week, at least a page or two. The trick is to internalize the masters’ skill, not to ape their words or stories. As Ecclesiastes 1:9 says there is nothing new under the sun and Jim Jarmusch agrees. “Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. […] Select only things to steal that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent.”
And, if you’re really worried about plagiarism, the Grammarly website offers you a Plagiarism Checker. I tried it with a few paragraphs from Green’s book Looking for Alaska. The Checker reported unoriginal text detected. Then I put in excerpts from Ellen Hopkins, Sherman Alexie, and Sarah Dessen. In each instance Plagiarism Checker recognized that work was not original to me. When I checked my own work it reported this text in this document is original. Phew.
Have you ever copied anyone else’s work for practice? What did you learn from the experience?
PS if you need some ideas on how to widen your inspiration, look no further than the book How To Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon. I bought my e-copy only yesterday and it’s already helped with this blog.
Original art: (c) Dawn Hudson