Last week I shared my reading obsession and the tendency writers have to compare themselves to other writers. (If you haven’t read the post, check it out here.) After a discussion with a fellow writer, I brought up the potential benefits of striving to be like your favorite writer.
The way I see it, wanting to be as good as…
- Nora Roberts
- Debbie Macomber
- Catherine Coulter
- Diana Gabaldon
- Julie Garwood
- Lisa Kleypas
(Honestly, the list could continue for pages because there are many amazing romance writers.)
Wanting to be as good as your favorite author can serve as both a motivational tool as well as a learning tool. Let’s take a look at the learning aspect first.
Learning to Write Romance by Copying the Greats
The late Elmore Leonard said that he learned to write by copying Hemingway. Literally copying him. He’d sit down at his desk and copy the sentences longhand. A long time ago I took a copywriting class and the first few weeks of homework were to copy, again word for word, the sales copy of the best performing pieces of all time.
It’s actually an age old practice called “Copywork.” It trains your brain to learn and embed sentence structure, style, and it improves the flow of your writing. You may also learn the nuances of great storytelling as you go and you’ll undoubtedly learn some grammar rules (your editor will greatly appreciate it.)
Famous Writers Who Used this Concept
Jack London, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Elmore Leonard are just a few notable writers who learned to write by copying the greats of their time. It used to be that Copywork was how they taught writing in school. They don’t anymore of course, but I think that’s a shame. There’s nothing wrong with using old teaching methods and incorporating them into the new practices. Everyone learns differently and while some kids would undoubtedly think this practice is stupid (I would have) there is benefit to it.
Back to your favorite writer for a minute. Why do you aspire to write like them? What do you appreciate about their writing? For example, I adore Ilona Andrews’s amazing ability to perfectly describe a setting without boring the reader to tears. There’s the perfect amount of description.
Once you’ve identified what you admire about the writer, grab a notebook and a pen or pencil and start copying. If I were doing this I’d grab a descriptive page from one of the Magic books by Ilona and copy the scene a few times. Don’t type it out. Write longhand. Studies have shown that you learn more quickly and deeply when you write longhand.
Copy a paragraph or two each day and gradually work your way toward longer passages. Do this for a few weeks and then try your hand at a similar scene or chapter in your own book. See how it feels. Elmore Leonard said that after a while of copying Hemingway he realized that Hemingway didn’t have a sense of humor. Elmore Leonard definitely does. He started adding his own voice to the Hemingway material and then progressed onto writing his own stories. (If you’ve never read an Elmore Leonard book, grab one. They’re fantastic. Out of Sight is a good one because there’s a bit of a romance. Or watch the movie with George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez.)
What About Motivation?
Ask anyone who has achieved “greatness” and they’ll most likely say that they had a role model. They had someone who they looked up to who served to motivate and inspire them. Rather than comparing yourself to a great writer, let them inspire you. Use them as a silent mentor. Learn what you can about their writing habits and their journey to success. Follow them on social media and focus on inspiration and motivation rather than comparison and lack.
And then get busy writing because your book isn’t going to write itself!
P.S. I wanted to share some good news I stumbled upon the other day. I recently wrote a book for Sterling Publishing and I discovered that they have it available for pre-order. It is scheduled for release on November 4th and I’m planning to do something big for the release.
Check out the cover and let me know what you think. It was a tremendously fun project to work on and I’m pretty geeked about the cover. You can pre-order it here.