4 Reasons to Mimic the Masters—and 3 Reasons Not to

If I say you should copy another writer, would you call the plagiarism police and poke me in a padded cell? If so, get your cuffs and straitjacket ready, because that’s exactly what I’m about to tell you.

Of course, copying doesn’t have to mean stealing. Copying another writer boils down to nothing more or less than mimicry, and mimicry, as we all know, is one awesome compliment. It’s also a gift that just keeps on giving, since in mimicking the masters of the craft, we’re not only paying them homage, we’re also gaining untold benefits for our own writing. Let’s take a look at how and how not to successfully mimic the masters of writing.

How to Mimic the Masters

Setting High Goals.

By desiring to write as well as our favorite authors, we’re forcing ourselves to set the highest of goals for our own writing, instead of settling for any ol’ drivel that dribbles from our pens.

Achieving Good Taste.

In choosing to mimic a particular author, we’re establishing a definitive statement about our taste as readers. We’re deciding what makes a good writer and, therefore, what kind of writer we want to be.

Studying the Techniques.

We can’t mimic unless we first study another writer. To be able to achieve the same desirable effects in our writing, we first have to be able to identify and understand those effects.

Achieving Growth.

The very act of mimicry means our writing will be moving ever upwards and onwards. Even a failed attempt of mimicry is one that will help us understand ourselves and our craft better.

How Not to Mimic the Masters

Plagiarism.

Mimicry may be a compliment, but stealing someone else’s words or ideas is most certainly not. Aside from the fact that it’s unethical and illegal, plagiarism will never be able to give you much in the way of satisfaction or artistic growth.

Laziness.

The desire to be able to write like another author does not give us the excuse to use their stories as half-baked starting points for our own. Fan fiction aside, writing a story that is a feebly disguised copy of Star Wars or The Hunger Games means you’re missing the point—and the benefits—of using another artist’s genius to launch your own unique story, style, and voice.

Giving Up.

Sometimes the attempt to achieve the same effect as a masterful author can leave us feeling like we’ll never measure up. Don’t forget that even the masters had to start somewhere, had to be inspired by other artists, had to grow into their own place of excellence.

More Mimicry Tips

So how do you successfully mimic other authors in a way that will help you learn their secrets while aiding you in discovering your own unique and personal artistic nuances?

Read Widely and Deeply.

Start by reading everything you can get your hands on. When you find an author who makes you go I want to write like that!, read everything he’s written, both the good and the bad.

Read With Attention.

We’ve all heard the phrase “read like a writer,” but what does that really mean? It means reading with eyes that see beyond the story, behind the scenes to the techniques that make it work. Once you’ve cracked an author’s code, you can apply his secrets to your own work.

Copy out Passages.

Sometimes it’s helpful to take the above step a little further by actually copying out excellent passages from your favorite books. The act of writing each word down can make us understand the choice of language and the structure of the sentences and paragraphs.

Experiment With Similar Styles.

Mimicry only works if you put what you’ve learned into practice. Did you enjoy the first-person present tense style in that last Margaret Atwood novel? Why not give it a try in your next book. Did you love the rapid-fire action scene in that latest Brandon Sanderson book? Try throwing your characters into the midst of a mano-a-mano duel in the next chapter.

In a nutshell, mimicry is nothing more than reading, appreciating, and learning from the masters. As artists, there is no better way to improve our own craft than to fall in love with the excellence of someone else’s.

Tell me your opinion: Who’s the last author who made you think I want to write like that?

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Library Bray definitely makes me want to be a writer. Her work is so great. This post was also great. Thanks for the reminder to read who inspires us. Too often I get caught up in reading someone else’s work and thinking “I am doing it wrong ” when I need to remember to a) trust myself and b) trust Libba! Thanks!

  2. Her name is LIbrary? How cool is that?

  3. Michael Connelly. I have read just about everything this man has every published. He is brilliant! If I could write hald as well…

  4. Keep reading him! The more we can learn from our favorite authors, the more likely we’ll be able to mimic their success.

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