In spite of its salacious, click-bait title, and apparently being written by fictitious baseball player Sidd Finch*, I read an article entltled How to Not Write Like an Asshole last year. In it, the author proposes that the way to become a great writer is to copy great writers.
“When I say you should copy great writers, I mean you should literally copy their best work, word-for-word, and preferably by hand.
This process is called copywork and it’s mind-numbingly simple. You barely have to think. All you have to do is sit down with your favorite book, article, or blog post and copy it. Copywork is the fastest and best way to become a better writer. But for some reason very few people know about it.”
He goes on to trace the history of copywork from before Guttenberg invented the printing press, through famous copywork practitioners such as Benjamin Franklin, Jack London, and Hunter S. Thompson, who allegedly typed out The Great Gatsby in its entirety while working on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, just to get the feeling, he said, of what it was like to write that way.
There are even simple instructions for performing copywork yourself.
I’m not sure how much of the story is true, but (of course), you know me—I had to try it. I mean, if it was good enough for Hunter S. Thompson while he was working on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, it’s good enough for me…
So… I’ve been hand-writing The Great Gatsby longhand while working on my new book (available in two days on March 3): Working Smarter for Mac Users. 🤓
I do a few minutes of copywork as a warm-up whenever I sit down to write in earnest. And, as I mentioned in Working Smarter for Mac Users, I really enjoy writing with a fountain pen every now and then, so I’m kind of enjoying it.
Here’s the zinger, though: It works.
How do I know? Not a single person has told me I write like an a-hole since I started. Now, just read the article and give copywork a try… you might just discover that you enjoy it as much as I do!
*According to Wikipedia:
“Sidd Finch is a fictional baseball player, the subject of the notorious article and April Fools’ Day hoax “The Curious Case of Sidd Finch” written by George Plimpton and first published in the April 1, 1985 issue of Sports Illustrated. According to Plimpton, Finch was raised in an English orphanage, learned yoga in Tibet, and could throw a fastball as fast as 168 miles per hour (270 km/h).”