Imitation Writing

Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones, used to write and rewrite poems in college so she could memorize them. She writes,

In college I was in love with literature. I mean wild about it. I typed poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins over and over again so I could memorize them. I read John Milton, Shelley, Keats aloud and swooned on my narrow bed in the dormitory.

I copy bits and pieces of my favorite writers prose down in my journals, tucked between entries of daily life and my own imagination. I keep various quotes and story snippets from writers I admire among my index cards. While I write them down, as the pen makes scratching marks across my pages, I look at the language: how it runs off my pen (or mind's tongue), how long the sentences are, and what words were used. I like to think that it helps me dissect language down into uncovering what makes them work and "so great."

Have you ever attempted to imitate your favorite writer's prose? How well did that go? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below.

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Definitely influenced

I've never purposely done so, but I tend to write like my favorite authors. As in, I've never met a complicated sentence structure that I didn't like. :) What pains me is how natural and smooth the flow is for some writers, when each and every word of mine is a struggle.

Writing smoothly

I wish I had the exact quote with me (I'm out of town), but William Zinsser, in his book "On Writing Well," says that the more effortlessly a sentence reads, the more effort the writer put into it to get it that way.

So take heart, you're in very good company. :-)

He's the writer I try to emulate the most. It may sound corny but "On Writing Well" lives on my bedside table and I reread it at least once a year cover to cover.


A friend of mine brings short poems to memorize during boring mandatory meetings. I always vow to do the same, but forget and end up doodling instead. Reciting poetry is wonderful but dying art.

There once was a man from Nantucket...

"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

Masonic liturgy as an influence

I became a Freemason about a year ago. There's a pretty large amount to be memorized in the ritual, catechism, etc, and I've noticed that it has influenced some of my writing style. Or it can when I let it. Certain twisting of phrases or use of vocabulary that's not in the common vernacular...

Great Reminder

I've been doing my daily moleskine journaling practice for over 2 years now and kind of forgot that adding excerpts is a great addition. I'm afraid I will need to pay more attention and seek out great writing and excerpts. I find that brilliant writing and thinking cheers me up and inspires me. That's something I don't want to miss.

I don't think I've ever

I don't think I've ever consciously imitated a writer's style, but I've certainly been influenced by a number of writers including Natalie Goldberg. My writing is all for myself and I feel pretty free to adopt any tone or style that I take a notion to use at a given moment. Notice I said "pretty free." I should (though "should"'s really a dirty word...) feel totally free. And when I have that thought, it invariably brings Natalie's advice to mind. "Writing Down the Bones" is one of the best books I've read, on writing or anything else, and its big message is that of freedom and liberation.

Including quotations from your favorites in your journal sounds like a great idea. I'm much taken with the idea of a "commonplace" book. But I don't want to keep two books at once -- feels too organized to me! The widely published European journal-keepers did a lot of quoting in their daily writing, too.

Ahh, yes,,,

My sister and I write a books' worth of emails in the same vein as Edgar Allen Poe.

And we are forever posting quick movie quotes on each others Facebook pages.

Our favorites are quotes from "Lonesome Dove" and "O, Brother Where Art Thou".

I sometimes check my page and there will be something like, "That's Jake Spoon." So I go over to her page and add, "Dang if it ain't. Lord, how long it's been."

This keeps us going as a long-distance relationship makes us miss each other greatly...she is in SC and I am in Atlanta...