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Writer: When Copying Is Good For Your Career

notebookbookIt can be tough to keep yourself in a creative state of mind, especially when the world offers so many distractions. Every day, there’s a new gadget to play with, a new TV show to watch, a new celebrity wedding. Plus, there are the distractions of personal life.

With so much going on, it can be hard to maintain a creative state of mind. Writers get stuck. If you’re feeling distracted and your ideas and enthusiasm for writing have dried up, consider taking a new approach.

Copying For Creativity  

Of course, we don’t mean plagiarizing (that’s just gross and wrong!). We recommend choosing a passage word for word from a book or poem that you love and copying it into a favorite notebook. If possible, copy the passage by hand. Force yourself to copy slowly, to let the words sink in.

Set aside a few minutes a day for copying; even if you can’t write, you can embrace the feel of writing, the rhythms of words, the creative energy that comes from reading an inspiring passage.

You know Newton’s law stating that an object in motion stays in motion? Creativity can be like that. Ideas bring about more ideas. Writing brings about more writing.

So if you’ve stalled out, it may be time to get moving by copying a favorite passage into a notebook to get your creative juices flowing again.

Here’s another element of copying to consider: Try rewriting your favorite works in your own words. Review a favorite scene in a book or story, then close the book and put it away. Rework it in your own voice, in your own way.

You may find that just getting started leads to new ideas. And who knows? If you follow your muse off on a tangent, you may find yourself with a wholly new work ready to be shined up and submitted for publication.

NOTE: We at Writer’s Relief are NOT advocating plagiarism or literary theft. Any writing you submit to agents or literary journals must be entirely your own. If you copy a passage closely in any way, do so for private purposes only—in a journal or notebook.

And if you begin to rewrite a favorite scene to get your fingers tickling the keyboard, be sure that whatever you may submit from this practice exercise is wholly original and unique.

Submit to Review Board

Memorization And Creativity

Finally, don’t discount the power of memorization. Carry your favorite passage or poem around in your pocket, and look at it throughout the day.

When you really live with and inhabit a passage over a period of time, your experience of it deepens—and so does your own capacity for strong writing and creative thinking.

There’s a reason teachers used to make students memorize poems back in the day (we’re not sure if they’re still doing that now—readers, let us know!). Memorizing a prose passage or poem not only builds memory skills, but it also increases creativity and interpretive powers as well.

Photo by Sarah Ross.

Writer QuestionsQUESTION: What prose passage or poem can you recite by heart? Have you ever copied a passage just for fun?

14 Responses to Writer: When Copying Is Good For Your Career

  1. Memorizing is a huge struggle for me. But, I do have parts of poems and Bible verses swimming around in my head from days past. Must have done something for me, somehow. I can remember the concepts and ideas but struggle with the exact words. I definitely see the value in memorizing, and I wish I would have grabbed this habit when I was younger & doing so was MUCH easier.

  2. @Janetta, Bible verses is a great idea. I, too, have many memorized. I loved this article. Gave me some good ideas to jump start creative juices. Something I love to do is copy poems or verses that especially touch me into a journal and collage the mood that it brings out or even collage my interpretation of it. Helps with memorizing & brings creativity to a new level. I wanted to share Ben Franklin’s method of learning to write. It’s similar to what is mentioned here but even more in depth. Enjoy:

  3. Hooray for us Sam Magee guys! I’ve recited this several times at family campfires. One grandson, then about the fifh grade, got excited when his teacher read it to the class. He was proud to tell her that he recognized the poem I’d recited the summer before.

  4. I had to read a poem in 11th grade English and at my dads suggestion I memorized it. I can still recite most of The Cremation of Sam Magee

  5. I memorized lots of poems from our child’s encyclopedia (bought by my drunken father from a door to door salesman– best purchase Daddy ever made) when I was nine. My favorites were Robert Louis Stevenson– mainly,
    “When I was down beside the sea
    a wooden spade they gave to me
    to dig the sandy shore.
    My holes were empty like a cup.
    In every hole the sea came up
    till it could come no more.”

  6. As a Catholic school student, I had to memorize a lot of poetry. My favorite activity, in the beginning of the school year, was to sit at the dining room table after I got home from school and read that year’s poetry book in its entirety. I can still recite many of those poems: “Will there really be a morning? Is there such a thing as day?” Or, “I shot an arrow into the air. It fell to earth I knew not where.” I include some of these verses, as well as many from the Bible. in a lot of my work. I internalized these rhythms at an early age. They soothe me, as does my writing when it’s going well or after I’ve gotten something down that I like.

  7. Be with me, darling early and late. Smash glasses, I will study wry music for your sake. For should your hands drop white and empty, all the toys of the world would break.
    Love poem, John Frederick-Nims

  8. I love memorizing my favorite poems and practicing them as I go on my daily walks….Dickinson’s Wild Nights, Stafford’s A Ritual to Read to Each Other, Neruda’s Sonnet XVII…, Frost’s Neither Out Far Nor In Deep, Two great villanelles: The Waking by Roethke, and One Art by Elizabeth Bishop, and Vision by May Thielgaard Watts…all great food for the soul and practice for the mind. Wallace Stevens The House Was Quiet And The World Was Calm…shall I go on and on?

  9. When my kids were teen-agers (long ago), the whole family memorized–more-or-less–The Cremation of Sam Magee by Robert Service. I can still recite it… All five and half minutes of it.

  10. I can still recite Robert Louis Stevenson’s “In winter I get up at night/and dress by yellow candlelight…” and Robert Frost’s “Whose woods these are I think I know/his house is in the village though..” which my mother made me learn when I was very young. On the other hand, I had lead roles in two Shakespeare plays in high school (Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest) and can’t remember a word of them. Like most people I can sing lots of popular songs from several decades. I also remember some hymns I sang at school and show tunes.

  11. The Bible verses I memorized as a child as still with me. I’ve also written out the book of Psalm and yes, it does take what I wrote to a deeper level. Thank you for your post. Enjoyed it!!

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