First, You Copy

Copying letters.The urge, starting out, is to copy. And that’s not a bad thing. Most of us only find our own voices after we’ve sounded like a lot of other people. – Neil Gaiman, “Make Good Art”

I’m sometimes told my writing style has a distinct sound to it. I suppose it does, but it’s taken years of writing to arrive at it. My style did not emerge fully formed from my head. It took work.

I know I copied in my early writing years, and I used writing exercises (I still do.) as jumping-off points. In fact, I think most writers – any artists, really – find their own styles by imitating other people’s and giving themselves practice assignments or exercises. The piano student plays Mozart and Beethoven according to tradition. The professional pianist improvises as Dan Tepfer does with “The Goldberg Variations.”

My poetry? The early poems copied what I knew to be poems, that is, the poems I remembered from classroom studies. As I read more poets and discovered new works, my own work shifted. It adopted characteristics from the poets I was reading at the time. Eventually, I developed my own style.

The style on this blog is mostly consistent, but it’s taken time to develop. Even then, I still labor over it because I don’t think my work is done. I have to keep working on my craft, and one of the ways I do that is through “borrowing” quotes as I’ve done with Gaiman’s. That borrowing isn’t wrong; it’s a way of getting to a new point of exploration and continuing onward with the writing life.

I say copy first (but please do acknowledge direct sources and inspiration). Your own style will emerge as you do.

Image: bengarrison (CC BY SA 2.0)