Every once in a while, I find myself doing something that’s proven very helpful to me in my writing: creative copying. What’s that, you may well be asking. Basically, it’s a variation on how painters developed their skills. As part of their artistic training, they would often copy the works of old masters, trying to reproduce every brush stroke and splash of color.
In my version of this approach, I take out a book or poem or a play that I really admire and literally copy out the words to a sizable chunk of it, either by hand or on a typewriter. There is something immensely soothing and revealing about this practice.
First, as my hand traces the words, I feel that I am almost walking in the footprints of a master. Suddenly, in a way that isn’t as apparent when just reading the words on a page, I feel the inevitability, the rightness, of the decisions they made during the writing process.
Second, by transcribing a few paragraphs, a poem, or some dialogue in a play, I begin to see more deeply into their style and even their word choices. I understand more clearly why a tight phrase or a colorful adjective can bring a whole sentence to life.
And finally, deconstructing and analyzing well-crafted poetry or prose is tremendously inspiring. It helps me remember that even the most gifted of writers faced many of the same choices I’m facing now in my own work. It also makes me feel bolder and more determined to write dangerously.
Why not take a few minutes to try this yourself?