Copywork – a learning technique used by history’s greatest authors, will sharpen various aspects of your writing.
What is copywork?
Copywork is the process of writing down a passage word for word, referring back to the original as many times as needed to make sure one’s text is exactly the same as the original.
A lot of aspiring writers learn the techniques that make for good writing and then try to produce something brilliant. However, studies have shown that learning technique alone does not work. You need to emulate excellent models if you really want to improve your writing.
New born babies enter the world incapable of walking and talking. They learn these activities by imitating the people around them until they can do them naturally – without thinking.
Since we learned how to talk by emulating those around us, why can’t we learn to write the same way?
“You learn from copywork by imitating, understanding, combining, reworking, and then creating your own interpretation (of what was just an exercise in copying)”
In other words as you copy, look for elements of the author’s work (phrases, quotes, descriptions, introductions, or conclusions) that you absolutely love. Then find ways to use the same elements as you compose your own pieces.
Benefits of Copywork
Examples of authors who have used the copywork technique
Robert Louis Stevenson, was the author of the classic, Treasure Island. He improved his writing by copying word for word the great writing of those who had come before him. He would take a passage from a great author, read it twice, turn over the page and try to reproduce it from memory. The exercise was really difficult at first but with increased practice, he was able to read huge passages and reproduce them from memory exactly.
Benjamin Franklin, a great American statesman would:
1. Read an essay.
2. Make notes for each sentence that he read, look at the notes and try to replicate the essay in his own words. Then compare his version to the original.
3. If they were any mistakes, he would revise and improve his version to the original.
How I learned to ride
As an 8 year old boy, I would always lose balance and fall when trying to ride a bicycle. Everything I tried, failed.
“Maybe I am doomed to riding a tricycle for the rest of my childhood days,” I imagined…
Out of frustration, I asked our gardener to support my bike while I pedaled around the compound. Doing this helped me gain the feel of riding a two wheeled bike.
“I am tired of riding the bicycle while you are holding it,” I told the gardener one day. “Hold it for me as by begin to ride, but when I tell you to let go, please let go.” I added.
At first, I pedaled only a few meters before losing balance again. But eventually, I learned to ride on two wheels without falling off.
Copywork “works” in a similar fashion. Like the gardener who held my bicycle as I learned to pedal on two wheels, copywork will give you the structure needed to produce excellent writing.
Getting started with copywork
Copywork is very simple to do. All you need is a good notebook, a pen or pencil and access to great writing by an author you truly admire. Then set aside time daily even if it’s only 5 minutes to truly benefit from this exercise.
My own copywork exercise looks like this
1. I pick a piece of writing I like and set my alarm to duration of not less than 5 minutes.
2. Then I copy from the selected passage until the alarm goes off.
3. Afterwards I read out loud the text I was able to copy within that time frame.
You don’t have to copy entire books or articles all the time. If you want to work on your headline – writing skills, you can simply write out headlines. If you want to work on music reviews, you can write out music reviews. If you want to work on writing entertainment news stories, write out entertainment news stories. In fact, you don’t have to copy the text as it appears all the time. Visit these sites to discover excellent music/entertainment articles and reviews you can copy:
The key thing is that you attempt to sound like a writer you know is really good.
Copywork is not easy. I started doing copywork on 12th March, 2016 and I have copied 5 articles so far. I still haven’t finished chapter 1 of a novel I am copying. It may take more than a year to finish the book.
Not everyone will put in the time and effort required to become a better writer. That’s why very writers become popular. Choose to be among those who will pay the price to become great.
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