Friday, May 6, 2011

Secrets from Professional Writers (Part 6 of 10)

6. We mimic the best.

I can't say this enough: Imitate the writers you admire. Would-be basketball heroes copy the moves of the players they admire.

For example, when I was 15 years old I first read William Saroyan's The Human Comedy. I didn't know much about writing, but I knew I wanted to write and that I wanted to write with his warmth. Saroyan's writing gave me permission to express my heart on paper. That's one kind of imitation.

The other is to copy their words. When you read something that makes you pause and say, "I wish I had written that," copy the words. File them. Read them occasionally. As you copy and ponder the prose, you're absorbing their style.

Don't just copy best-selling writers. I can think of several top-grossing writers. It's not their mastery of the craft that makes them sell, but it's their plots or the material they cover.

I started with two writers I like, and neither of them was in my field. That didn't matter and may have been a positive factor. I couldn't steal or copy their prose, but I could learn syntax and phrasing that equaled theirs.

I find superior writers;
I imitate them so that I can become better than they are.


  1. Absolutely agree with you on this. There's no better way to learn how to write than to read "good" writers (meaning, as you say, writers whose craft you admire). I wrote a database to collect the gems I read so that I could easily recall them when I needed a boost. I'll be happy to share that database (MS Access) with any of your readers who'd like a copy. (For copyright reasons, the database will come to them blank. They'll have to key in their own entries.)

  2. I love this! I'm writing my own manuscript now and I'm finding so much inspiration in the works of other writers. Great advice, as usual!

  3. So true. When we read great writing, the rhythm becomes a part of us like a song we'll never forget.

  4. I'm delighted that several of you see the value in reading and absorbing the writing of others. You're the ones who improve because you learn from some of the best.
    As you grow, you also recognize weak writing and learn what to avoid.

    Thanks for all the comments.

  5. I needed to read this today!! Sometimes I feel like a stalker to my favorite writers ;D Thank you so much for the encouragement that I'm on the right track.

  6. Cec,
    You hit it on the head on this one. Thanks. I used two best selling books to template the message and format of my first book. However, I knew there was a voice in me wanting to come out. Eventually, the style, the voice, the format became totally mine after 400 rounds of editing. Aloha.

    Herman C.
    Honolulu, Hawaii


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