(Please read this first. In order to link to the book
the New York Times, you may need to sign up for a free on line
at their site. This is easily done, and well worth the
In addition to all the other features the NYT offers, you will be able
to read book reviews, and complete first chapters of hundreds of books
on line. This is one of the great bargains of the internet. New
York Times )
February 14, 1994
An austere white
house with a roof of ochre tile stands amid the olive groves and
of Chianti. Tight-furled cypresses file uphill along a lane to other
other farms. The February sun hangs low in the sky, the icy tramontana
slices in from Switzerland, but the grass is already green and the
are in bud. Except for wisps . . .
When I drive from Athens to Sparta, I know I am in Georgia. The road takes you through open fields. Only one sharecropper shack remains, light peering through between the four piles of bricks on which it stands. Cotton, mechanically maintained now, is regaining its place in competition with the beef cattle endlessly grazing on gently sloping hillsides. Coming into Sparta, the county courthouse commands attention.
Click the links to see the full chapters. And here are some more.
Read these, compare with what you have done. Don't judge your work against others. Instead, take the opportunity to compare. What have these other writers done that you liked? What have they done that you disliked? What have they done that you think you could learn from? Try copying a few sentences and substituting your own words.
Here's how you can do that. The following passage is by James Baldwin.
I was born in Harlem thirty-one years ago. I began plotting novels at about the time I learned to read. The story of my childhood is the usual bleak fantasy, and we can dismiss it with the restrained observation that I certainly would not consider living it again.
Here is my exact rewrite:
I was born in Blue Island Illinois, seventy long years ago. I began ruining my eyes as soon as I could read. The story of my childhood is the usual tug of war between parents and child, and the best I can say about it is that reached adulthood in one healthy, but somewhat neurotic piece.
Okay. It wasn't exact. I'm a writer, I gotta write. But I did follow the general pattern of Baldwin's paragraph and sentences. I very nearly reproduced his rhythms. Is this cheating? Well, yes and no. Cheating in that we always want to do our own thing. But not in the sense that I have stolen anything from Baldwin. I copied his moves, not his game.
Anyone who works in the arts does this from time to time, especially when they are learning. A young dancer will learn by watching an accomplished artist. A painter will sit down and literally copy a masterpiece; I've seen them do it, often. Singers will imitate their favorite artists. Athletes will imitate the moves of the pro's.
So why shouldn't you take advantage of the lessons taught be a great writer?
Go ahead. Give it a whack.