Writing Exercise: Copy from Your Favorite Book

A while back, I read somewhere that in order to feel, physically and mentally, what it’s like to write “good writing,” you should type up a passage or even a full chapter of your favorite author’s work.

I do take some issue now with the implication that the words you’re reading from your favorite author flowed out of them as easily as you’re typing them up. Most likely, they were arrived at through multiple rounds of revisions.

But I took that advice and copied out some passages. It felt strange, almost wrong, to type up somebody else’s words. Despite that oddness, the exercise made me more aware of the varied sentence structures and the ratio between dialogue, description, and internalization. It also made me a little more attuned to showing vs. telling.

Then, I forgot about that exercise for years. Recently, when I was cleaning out and reorganizing my computer files, I came across a folder with a few chapters I’d typed up from different books. My first thought was, “Well, that’s a weird thing I did a few times.” I shrugged it off and went on with relabeling file folders (because, who are we kidding? I don’t actually delete anything during these “clean outs”).

A few days later, I was watching a video online about different writing habits, and one of the exercises mentioned was copying out another author’s work. What? Suddenly, this wasn’t just some strange exercise I’d nearly convinced myself I’d made up. This was a thing that other people did.

And so I challenge you to pick a passage from an amazing book by an author you love and copy it out—handwriting or typing. Give it a try, and embrace how strange it feels. Be conscious (either as you write or reflecting after the fact) of what you’re writing. What can you learn from it? Vocabulary? Style? Sentence structure? Dialogue? Description of setting or characters? The list is endless.


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