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View Full Version : Anyone do copywork for practice, warm-up or for learning?



nastyjman
05-27-2015, 09:25 PM
Here are some articles to share:


http://www.artofmanliness.com/2014/03/26/want-to-become-a-better-writer-copy-the-work-of-others/
https://itchyquill.wordpress.com/2015/03/26/the-art-of-writing-practising-plagiarism/


I've been doing this the past week, trying to delve deeper into sentence structure and variations. Often, when I write my drafts, I will be disgusted with the beats on the page like "he turned...", "he looked...", "he stared...". Also, I had been iffy with using time transitions such as "The next day...", "the following week...", "that night...", "an hour later...".

So to assuage my disgust and iffiness, I turned to my library and did copywork on one of Neil Gaiman's short story. Not much "turned...looked...stared" was used, and when I compared it to my draft, I learned that I can do away with them without losing anything. And the transitions were used often. I'm not sure why I was ambivalent towards transitions, and I've been incorporating them fluidly on my drafts without fear that I'm doing bad.

And the amazing part of doing copywork is learning different styles. There is one sentence structure that Gaiman uses that looks incorrect. It went like this: "She washed the mint carefully and put a few leaves in each glass, then poured the lemonade." There was another sentence with this structure as well.

Anyway, I'm just curious if any of our AW members currently incorporate copywork as a form of exercise, warm-up or learning regiment. Right now, I do this copywork after I finish writing or editing. I give myself one hour; this includes the actual copying and then analysis.

T Robinson
05-27-2015, 10:17 PM
Nope.

Filigree
05-27-2015, 10:18 PM
Every time I read another author, I'm doing copywork at some background level. I don't often do it formally.

InspectorFarquar
05-27-2015, 10:31 PM
The practice you're on was taught once upon a time. Tobias Wolff mentions doing it in his prep days. I'm pretty sure Sol Stein also refers to it. Surely there's plenty of others. I've been too lazy to do it for myself. Maybe your post will remind me to stop being lazy.

I'm curious what you find odd about the sentence?

nastyjman
05-27-2015, 10:35 PM
The practice you're on was taught once upon a time. Tobias Wolff mentions doing it in his prep days. I'm pretty sure Sol Stein also refers to it. Surely there's plenty of others. I've been too lazy to do it for myself. Maybe your post will remind me to stop being lazy.

I'm curious what you find odd about the sentence?

Probably because I would have written it this way: "She washed the mint carefully, put a few leaves in each glass, and then poured the lemonade."

What's bothering me was the "then" clause.

cornflake
05-27-2015, 10:39 PM
Probably because I would have written it this way: "She washed the mint carefully, put a few leaves in each glass, and then poured the lemonade."

What's bothering me was the "then" clause.

His is correct and sounds fine; your version is vaguely questionable and sounds off to me. You've sort of made a list of things with, I suppose, arguable, a serial comma, but it reads to me like you're using it to join an independent clause, which the latter there isn't.

nastyjman
05-27-2015, 10:55 PM
His is correct and sounds fine; your version is vaguely questionable and sounds off to me. You've sort of made a list of things with, I suppose, arguable, a serial comma, but it reads to me like you're using it to join an independent clause, which the latter there isn't.

Thanks cornflake! Can you tell me what the technical term is for this sentence structure? "She washed the mint carefully and put a few leaves in each glass, then poured the lemonade."

I'm dying to know.

Also, serial comma is something that I'm trying to control in my drafts.

cornflake
05-27-2015, 10:57 PM
Thanks cornflake! Can you tell me what the technical term is for this sentence structure? "She washed the mint carefully and put a few leaves in each glass, then poured the lemonade."

I'm dying to know.

Also, serial comma is something that I'm trying to control in my drafts.

Wait, back up - why are you trying to control the serial comma? SET IT FREE! The Oxford lives!!!! VIVA OXFORD!

OXFORD! OX-FORD! OX-FORD!!!

I'm not sure what you're asking wrt the structure exactly.

heza
05-27-2015, 11:32 PM
Here's a really old thread that illustrates the ", then" vs. ", and then" debate (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?174839-then-or-and-then-or-then).

LJD
05-28-2015, 01:01 AM
I typed a bunch of chapters up when I was doing this (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?263288-I-need-some-help) exercise that job suggested (posted #8). The exercise was helpful; my decision to type whole scenes or chapters before I did it...not so much. I find simply copying things rather tedious beyond a couple of pages.

Jamesaritchie
05-28-2015, 07:46 PM
I've never heard this called "copywork", but don't all writers dissect the writing of good writers, and then compare it to their own? I see little difference.

We did do a kind of "copywork" in college that was something like this. Pick a short story you haven't read, one that's roughly twenty-five hundred to three thousand words. Copy the first five hundred words. Now finish the story without reading the rest of the one you copied the first five hundred words from. When you finish the story, read all the one you copied from, and compare that one with your own.

It can be a remarkable learning experience. And a humbling one.

ishtar'sgate
05-28-2015, 08:33 PM
Probably because I would have written it this way: "She washed the mint carefully, put a few leaves in each glass, and then poured the lemonade."



I think I'd look at this a bit differently. Gaiman's was "She washed the mint carefully and put a few leaves in each glass, then poured the lemonade."

Read each one for rhythm and how it sounds to the ear. Do you see your construct has a sameness to the notes and Gaiman's allows a pause before the last phrase? It changes up the rhythm and makes the sentence feel a bit more interesting than just a series of actions.

heza
05-28-2015, 09:34 PM
Read each one for rhythm and how it sounds to the ear. Do you see your construct has a sameness to the notes and Gaiman's allows a pause before the last phrase? It changes up the rhythm and makes the sentence feel a bit more interesting than just a series of actions.

The problem is for most people on the one side of the " and then" debate, it's going to look and sound like a comma splice.

bearilou
05-29-2015, 12:29 AM
I've never heard this called "copywork", but don't all writers dissect the writing of good writers, and then compare it to their own? I see little difference.

We did do a kind of "copywork" in college that was something like this. Pick a short story you haven't read, one that's roughly twenty-five hundred to three thousand words. Copy the first five hundred words. Now finish the story without reading the rest of the one you copied the first five hundred words from. When you finish the story, read all the one you copied from, and compare that one with your own.

It can be a remarkable learning experience. And a humbling one.

I really like this. :Thumbs:

cornflake
05-29-2015, 12:36 AM
I really like this. :Thumbs:

Just be careful - remember how it turned out in Finding Forrester!

bearilou
05-29-2015, 12:38 AM
Just be careful - remember how it turned out in Finding Forrester!

Duly noted!

Jamesaritchie
05-29-2015, 06:57 PM
Just be careful - remember how it turned out in Finding Forrester!

It won't turn out that way. When you only copy a small percentage of the story, and when you haven't read the rest, it will be wildly different. Usually embarrassingly worse, which is more or less the point. It really teaches you how far you still have to go. Or teaches you that you're already there.

Jamesaritchie
05-29-2015, 07:07 PM
I think I'd look at this a bit differently. Gaiman's was "She washed the mint carefully and put a few leaves in each glass, then poured the lemonade."

Read each one for rhythm and how it sounds to the ear. Do you see your construct has a sameness to the notes and Gaiman's allows a pause before the last phrase? It changes up the rhythm and makes the sentence feel a bit more interesting than just a series of actions.

I don't see it that way. There should always be a slight pause when you encounter a comma, and this is true with both constructs here. The rhythm sounds exactly the same, at least to me. Most writers who use Gaiman's construct don't do so for rhythm, but from habit. It's the way they think, they way they speak, and so the way they write.

Others omit the "and" simply because they think it speeds up the story, especially during action sequences.

I use the "and" because not doing so is often confusing, and I like consistency. It's the same reason I use the Oxford comma. If I must use something part of the time for clarity, I use it all the time because doing so is never wrong. Not using it sometimes is.

I love Gaiman's writing, and his stories and characters, but this doesn't mean I love every sentence he writes. His sentence is not bad. It sounds like him, sounds like the way he speaks, but as a grammatical sentence, and as a rhythmic sentence, I don't think it's as good as it could be in a couple of ways.

No one writes a perfect sentence each and every time, or anywhere close to it. This includes Gaiman. This sentence is certainly adequate, but it's nothing to brag about.

matthew86
05-29-2015, 07:56 PM
Yeah, I do copywork regularly. That's how I practice.

RaggedEdge
05-30-2015, 09:59 PM
I've done copywork for all three reasons you mention, and I find it very helpful. I remember learning that's how Benjamin Franklin taught himself to write, and he went on to be a master wordsmith (i.e. Poor Richard's Almanack).

I learn more from copywork than reading alone. I pay more attention by doing the actual typing. I also learn that sometimes the very things I love about an author's writing are things novice writers are too quick to tear down. It helps when getting conflicting advice from beta readers.