My Copywork Story (Part 1)

Hi guys!

Today I want to tell you about a little thing I learned recently that seems to have helped my writing. Granted, it's been less than a week, and I've only done the exercise four times. Regardless, I've already noticed a difference in the way I speak, and particularly how I speak online in tweets, posts, and emails.

It's called Copywork. According to this 'The Art of Manliness' blog post, Copywork "...used to be the standard method by which students learned to write, and it is the 'secret' to how many of history’s greatest writers mastered the craft."

What is it? In a nutshell, Copywork means copying down, word-for-word, the successful works of great authors, in the hope that their genius will seep into your style of writing. If you read the article you'll see there are a few different ways to do this, ranging from memorization, to rewriting it from notes. (Seriously, read the article. You'll see what I mean.)

Since I first came across this article by way of an editor I greatly admire (hi Moshe!), I decided to really give this a shot. I just finished my first major revision on SUMMON and am waiting for feedback from critique partners, so I'm not currently working on anything specific. I'd probably be reading anyway, so why not?

To that end, I sat down Friday evening with a yellow legal pad, my favorite pen, and my Kindle. What should I copy? As I scrolled through everything I have downloaded, my mind immediately turned to this little blog post I wrote a while back. The answer was obvious. I needed something of Brandon Sanderson's.

Well, there's basically nothing by Brandon Sanderson that isn't over 30,000 words. So I knew I was in for a trip if I wanted to copy a complete work. Of his short stories, I'd already read FIRSTBORN, and really liked it, but I recalled reading this post on Joshua Bilme's blog where he spoke of THE EMPEROR'S SOUL. As far as I can tell from the post, and someone correct me if I'm wrong, THE EMPEROR'S SOUL was Sanderson's first Hugo-nominated work. This made it the perfect piece for me to copy, knowing that it had seen praise from multiple brilliant people.

Then, I began writing. I finished the prologue and a bit of chapter one that night, then did a few pages on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. So far, I have eleven pages of that yellow legal pad covered in my own handwriting (which, I might add, is becoming more legible). But even with eleven hand-written pages, I still haven't reached the end of chapter one.

It's gonna' be a long haul.

All this is simply to say, "Hey look I found an awesome new writing exercise, AND IT WORKS!" Even in writing an email to my sister-in-law on Monday, I noticed a difference in my wording, phrasing, and the way I organized my thoughts. Yet, it wasn't forced. It felt natural. I have since also started reading THE WAY OF KINGS, which I think has also helped. (I'm ashamed to admit I haven't read WoK until now, but I finally have the time so I'm doing it!)

Most surprising to me is the fact that I'm reading fiction, but have only been writing non-fiction. Yes, I've done some world building for my next book, I've typed out a few story ideas, but I haven't really drafted anything. And yet, my writing voice has significantly changed.

It's super cool, you guys. You've gotta try this.

Pick a favorite author, recent or not. Someone who writes your genre. Someone you would like to emulate. Then, start copying. Don't ask questions, don't let yourself get distracted. Just write.

See what happens.

Then come back and tell me, because I *can't* be the only one this happens to.


I'll update more as I continue to do this. Crossing my fingers it just gets better!

No comments

Back to Top