The first thing I remember hearing as a writer is that copying anything is plagiarism. Don’t copy it because that’s ‘cheating’. It is beat into the world’s children in school and then they are sent off into the world to hold on to that lesson forever more. Except there is one HUGE problem with that: there is absolutely nothing original in the world at all.
Everything has been written, scripted, watched, done, created – all of it. Fantasies about wizards and adventurers? There’s thousands. Sci-fi epics? Millions. Romance novels? Oh my word, don’t get me started on those because ‘cookie cutter’ has never found a more apt genre than romance.
I recently attended RavenCon, a local convention in Williamsburg, VA, and saw much of the same. Oh, sure, the stories were original in their own right but they piggy-backed off of the work of others. Heck, I easily bought over $100 worth of books that used previously written works either in print or on screen as a basis or quick descriptor (i.e. ‘It’s like Supernatural’ or ‘We’ve taken Sherlock Holmes and…’). That was all it took, I was sold; done, take my money. But why?
Because it was familiar. It was similar to things I already like. So, then, how do we as authors and publishers get to that same point? Interestingly enough, I read an article about that just the yesterday.
Wait, what? Yes, you heard me. Copy that favorite book into a notebook or journal. Copy it word for word, every last period and question mark.
The article by Jennifer Manuel can be read in its entirety here but can be summed up as this: copying the work of our favorite writers helps us grow. We learn the flow and voice that we so aspire to be like and, in so doing, find our own voices along the way. A couple of us here at Corrugated Sky have decided to give this odd method a go. Nothing grand or flashy, mind, just fifteen minutes of quick copying into whatever journal we happen to have on hand. I opted to do The Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman cuz, yes. It is easily one of my favorite books ever created. So, while sitting quite comfortably in my little work cave, out came the notebook and pen, the phone timer (which totally needs a new ringtone) and off I went! Do you know what I discovered? Mr. Gaiman likes run-on descriptors. The word ‘and’ is his absolute favorite. These are things I didn’t notice when I read it the first time around. Now that I have copied the first few paragraphs, it’s a little jarring yet knits the world he is building together in such a fashion as to be almost necessary. There is a mood that is set that was not consciously caught in simply reading the book. And this all in the first fifteen minutes! Imagine what I will learn by the end of the week; the month! I am tickled by this method of learning and expanding my abilities as a writer.
My recommendation: read the article; give the copy method a try. Pick a book. Any book will do. Try something in your chosen genre of writing or just something that thrills you. Grab a notebook and a pen and set those words down in your own handwriting. The results might just surprise you.