The Brain-Dead Simple but Astonishingly Effective Way to Become a Better Writer

The Brain-Dead Simple but Astonishingly Effective Way to Become a Better Writer

Write better posts.

Go to any site about blogging and you’ll see some variation of this advice.

Need more trafficWrite better posts.

Want more commentsWrite better posts.

And on the surface, it sounds like sage advice.

But when you think about it, it’s kind of like a track coach telling an athlete:  “If you want to win an Olympic gold, run faster.”

Well thanks Captain Obvious, but the problem isn’t a lack of effort.

I mean, raise your hand if you’ve ever sat down in front of your computer and intentionally written a bad blog post.

Thought so.

Write better posts might be great advice for the occasionally lazy blogger with a gift from the writing gods, but what are the rest of us supposed to do?

You know, we mere mortals who are willing to work our butts off and spend the hours it takes to produce great content but need a little help with the how.

The good news is that those great writers and artists who seem to have had their talent handed down from above didn’t start out great.

In fact, many of them only got there by using a dumb technique that you can shamelessly steal.

And it’s so brain-dead simple, you’re going to wonder why the hell you didn’t work it out for yourself.

How Picasso Became the Most Famous Painter of the 20th Century

When you look at one of Picasso’s famous paintings, it’s hard to imagine anyone but the Spanish master himself creating those distinctive brush strokes.

His style is unmistakable. His talent undeniable.

It stands to reason that Picasso’s genius can only have been the result of a natural gift, right?

Would it surprise you to know Picasso honed his techniques and developed his unique style by copying the greats who came before him?

When he was 7 years old, Pablo Picasso was formally trained in figure drawing and oil painting by his father José.

José was a traditional, academic artist and instructor who believed that proper training required disciplined copying of the masters and drawing the human body from plaster casts and live models.

Slavishly reproducing the greats and experimenting with a variety of styles, theories, and ideas led to the revolutionary artistic accomplishments that brought Picasso his fame and wealth.

How Dan Kennedy Became the Most Sought-After Copywriter in the World

Once upon a time, a very average student called Dan Kennedy went to visit his career counselor to ask about internship opportunities.

The career counselor said there was nothing suitable for him at the blue chip companies, but she did know a man who needed some help with his direct marketing business.

That man’s name was Gary Halbert, arguably the greatest living copywriter at the time.

On his first day, Dan arrived at a simple white office with three tables.  At one table, people were stuffing envelopes.  At the next table, people were filling orders.  And at the final table, he watched in awe as people counted stacks of money.

Dan turned to Gary Halbert and said: “I want to do what you do.”

Gary handed Dan a pile of sales letters 2 feet thick and told him: “Copy each of these letters by hand.  And when you’re done, copy them again.”

It took two years for Dan to finish his assignment.

But did it work?

Today, if you want to hire Dan Kennedy to write a sales letter for you, it’ll cost you $100,000 up front plus a commission on each sale you make.

How Jon Morrow Became One of the Most Popular Bloggers On the Web

You may not know this, but Jon has a degree in English Literature.  He often says this is the worst major an aspiring blogger can possibly pursue because an English Lit major is trained to write formally (read: boring).

When he first started out, Jon knew that if he wanted to build a popular blog, he would have to break these “good” writing habits in order to become a better blogger.  Drawing on the lessons learned by Dan Kennedy and Picasso, he opened up Stephen King’s “On Writing” and began to copy the text word for word.

Did it work?

Today Jon is one of the most read and shared writers in the blogosphere.

And he still uses this brain-dead technique whenever he’s facing writers’ block.

You’re probably asking yourself:  How can someone become a better writer or artist simply by copying the greats that came before?

The answer is muscle memory.

The Astonishing Power of Muscle Memory

Wikipedia says that muscle memory is “consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition.”  When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort.

For instance, if you’ve ever played a sport, you probably did a lot of drills.  A professional baseball player will hit a ball off a tee thousands of times to focus on the mechanics of the swing.

When he steps up to the plate to face a ball at 90 miles an hour, his body knows exactly what to do without him even thinking about it.

His muscles remembered how to swing the bat.

The same thing is true for writing.

By copying the greats who have come before you, you’ll train your brain to pick up their cadence.  You’ll learn how their words flow together.  And eventually it will become second nature to write like them.

It’s Your Turn

It’s time for you to follow in the footsteps of the most popular bloggers and successful writers. It’s time to train your writing brain for greatness.

And you can do this in four simple steps.

1. Find a writer you enjoy reading and would like to copy.  Here are some of my favorites:

  • Gary Halbert – If you’re stuck on a headline idea, or want to get more people to subscribe to your email list, copy the Gary Halbert letters.  Yes, he’s a copywriter, but copying these letters will turn you into a great blogger, too.
  • Stephen King – A master story teller, copying Stephen King will help you tell a story more eloquently so you can relate to your readers and cultivate a loyal audience.
  • Seth Godin – Seth’s brilliance is his brevity.  He can take complex ideas and articulate them to the masses in under 100 words. Studying Seth will help you say more with less and become a master of the pithy sound bite.
  • The Bloggess – If you’re looking to inject personality into your post, check out The Bloggess.  She’s opinionated, controversial, and a fantastic blogger.
  • Ben Settle – Smart bloggers know that email marketing and blogging go together like peanut butter and jelly.  Ben Settle will show you how to write emails that get opened and inspire your audience to take action.
  • Charles Bukowski –  For more advanced bloggers, Charles Bukowski will help you develop a rhythm and cadence to your writing style.

2. Get your favorite pen and get some paper.  I prefer using old-fashioned legal pads.  But whatever works for you is fine.

3. Choose any piece of writing from your favorite writer or blogger and copy it by hand onto your pad.  Once you’re done, copy another one.  Do this for one full hour.  Continue this same process every night for the next four months.

4. At the end of the fourth month, find an old post and re-write it so you can see just how much your writing has improved.

If this sounds like a lot of work, it is.  As the saying goes, it’s simple, but it ain’t easy.  Not everyone will put in the time and effort required to become a better writer.

It’s why a very small percentage of bloggers become popular.

But we‘re the lucky ones because we now know the secrets of the best writers and bloggers in the world.

They’ve trained their writing muscles to remember the techniques of the greats that came before them.

And you can do the exact same thing.

I won’t guarantee that you’ll become a rock star blogger. There are far too many variables.

But I will guarantee you’ll become a much better writer if you follow these simple steps.

Your blog will start to see more traffic.  Your posts will start to see more comments.  And you will be on your way to becoming a great blogger.

Do yourself a favor and get started today.

There’s no excuse.

Because you finally know what you need to do to… write better posts.

About the author: Greg Digneo is obsessed with helping marketing agencies, consultants, media companies, and PR firms sign up new clients. If this is you and you’d like to learn more about what it takes to generate new leads online, then check out his new video where he shows you how to sign up 5 clients per month.

100 Comments

  1. Tom Schiavon
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 06:58:09

    I’m trying to figure out if you are the Mickey Mantle or Barry Bonds of blogging. I mean, I guess it comes down to whether performance enhancing drugs are legal in blogging.

    Either way, you hit another one out of the park.

    Thanks, Jon.

    • Jon
      Jun 20, 2013 @ 07:24:44

      Thanks Tom. Greg deserves the credit for this one, though.

  2. Ahmed Safwan@ To Start Blogging
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 06:36:12

    There’s not excuse to anyone from now to write great posts. I think the internet can be better environment.

    Thanks a lot for sharing this simple tip Greg.

    For me, the writer that I’m going to copy is Jon Morrow. I’ll start with his latest post on CopyBlogger and then check his superman post here and so on.

    I’ll of course show you the result after 4 months. I’m sure I’ll be proud to share them.

    Thanks again for sharing this Greg.

    • Jon
      Jun 20, 2013 @ 06:40:32

      Aw shucks. Now you have me blushing. 🙂

      • Ahmed Safwan@ To Start Blogging
        Jun 20, 2013 @ 11:19:16

        Man, you’re great one. You didn’t get to where you’re now from nothing. You worked hard till you achieved it.

        Great Work Jon. You’re really inspiring a lot of bloggers including me to start blogging as a pro.

        Thanks a lot JON.

    • Marya | Writing Happiness
      Jun 20, 2013 @ 19:00:46

      I second that!

  3. Nick Stamoulis of Brick Marketing
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 06:44:46

    I would say that even just reading the work of great authors is going to improve your style. It’s not going to happen overnight but you will notice small improvements over time. Doing so might also spark ideas of topics to write about.

    • Jon
      Jun 20, 2013 @ 07:23:17

      100% true.

  4. Greg
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 06:45:14

    Glad you enjoyed the tip Ahmed.

    Jon is a good one to copy.

  5. Darlene with BlogBoldly
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 06:47:01

    Exactly Jon!

    The more we do, the more we are.

    I have definitely noticed the more I write the better I become. Not only that, but the easier it gets.. and the ideas flow faster.

    And I love to play with Headlines. Often I think of a killer Headline and then write the post because I think the Headline is so astonishing! haha

    ~ darlene 🙂

    • Jon
      Jun 20, 2013 @ 07:23:59

      Astonishing is a lovely word, isn’t it? Great power word.

      • Darlene with BlogBoldly
        Jun 20, 2013 @ 11:15:08

        Yesiree 🙂

      • Jeffrey Greenspan
        Jun 24, 2013 @ 06:07:44

        I like that new word: slavishly… I will copy that.

  6. Shirley Hershey Showalter
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 06:52:38

    So I guess having a PhD is about the worst background for becoming a good blogger. 🙂 I can testify to many embedded habits shaken up. I’m training my own muscle memory today by writing a piece of fan mail to an author and blogging about it. Variation on the theme.

    Thanks for an excellent post. I really didn’t need one more list to be on, but I’m making an exception for this one.

  7. Linda Lochridge Hoenigsberg
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 06:56:52

    In a TED talk, Amy Cuddy talks about “faking it until you become it.” I believe this is powerful stuff. I’m in!

  8. Tim Brownson
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 06:59:13

    Is that the lovely Dan Kennedy who said on one of his CD’s when presenting a workshop on copywriting that when he was selling personal alarms he was praying every night a local rapist wasn’t caught because he was making so much money?

    • Greg
      Jun 20, 2013 @ 07:00:21

      I don’t know if I heard that story, but it kind of sounds like something he’d say.

    • Jon
      Jun 20, 2013 @ 07:27:55

      I don’t recall him ever selling personal alarms, but yeah, he could have said something like that. I’m sure he was joking, though.

      I do remember him saying something about prevention products being the hardest to sell. People don’t buy them unless there’s been a recent scare. He recommended targeting areas where there had been recent break-ins. Smart guy.

      • Tim Brownson
        Jun 20, 2013 @ 07:44:40

        It’s 4 or 5 years since I bought it so maybe it was home alarms I dunno. But he sounded serious enough to me to make me immediately stop listening and send the CDs back.

        The world is full of smart unethical, greedy and selfish people Jon. Smart doesn’t impress me half as much as integrity and compassion, but hey, maybe I’m just a foolish idealist?

      • Ali Luke
        Jun 20, 2013 @ 08:07:50

        Jon and Greg — thanks for this post! I’d never come across this technique before, but it’s one I’ll be trying out (and if I get on well with it, I’ll recommend it to other writers).

        Tim — don’t you try this one, I love your style just the way it is. 🙂 And you’re not a foolish idealist (or if you are, it’s one of the things we love you for…)

      • Tim Brownson
        Jun 20, 2013 @ 10:34:46

        Thanks Ali 🙂

    • Susan Kuhn
      Jun 21, 2013 @ 08:01:16

      As a college debater I prayed that the USSR would invade Europe because it would prove my case…thinking like that shows you are deep into your writing. [Helps to come up for air and rejoin the human race, but not for too long! ;)]

  9. Kevin Carlton
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 07:02:39

    Yeah, Greg, and very major part of writing better posts is writing better headlines.

    Put it this way – I’m really rushed off my feet today.

    But when I saw your headline ‘The Brain-Dead Simple but Astonishingly Effective Way to Become a Better Writer’ it was simply crying out to be read.

    So, whether busy with other stuff or not, I just had to investigate.

    • Greg
      Jun 20, 2013 @ 07:05:14

      Thanks for taking time to read this Kevin! I appreciate it.

      This headline was actually a joint collaboration. Jon and I talked about it for a solid 20 minutes – spit balling ideas back and forth.

  10. Rita Mailheau
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 07:03:13

    I know this technique and use it. It absolutely works. It doesn’t get less sexy BUT who cares?
    You’ll never regret it.

    • Jared Kimball
      Jun 26, 2013 @ 20:30:10

      Rita, you seriously copied word for word one or two of your favorite writers works for 4 months solid and saw real results?

      Greg’s system does sound so simple to do yet I’m skeptical that it will work. I’ll continue reading to see if anyone else got similar results.

  11. Shane Arthur
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 07:03:36

    Or you could just join Jon’s Guest Blogging program and see a ton of structural and line edits in action.

    #justSayin

    • Mark Hermann
      Jun 20, 2013 @ 07:06:03

      There you go again, Shane 😉

  12. Leanne Regalla
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 07:04:13

    Great stuff, Greg. Jon talks about this technique a lot. I know it works because I’m also a musician, and we start out in music learning and copying songs that others have written.
    I haven’t done it yet, not because I’m willfully disobedient (usually) 😉 but you’ve given me the kick in the arse that I need. Starting now. Thank you.

  13. Angie
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 07:04:14

    Years ago, I took a fiction writing course that shared this advice. I had forgotten about it until now, but it certainly makes sense — nothing cements structure and pacing in your head like copying it by hand. 😉

    Thanks for this — and I’ll be using Jon’s work too!

  14. Mark Hermann
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 07:04:55

    Greg,

    A fine piece of writing yourself!

    Gary Halbert’s advice could apply to any discipline, really.

    I would throw in Paulo Cohelo as my new favorite author whose work I’ll have to copy word for word. His amazing book, The Alchemist is now one of the 50 most read books of all time. I’ve read it twice already and I could read it 50 more times. Every creator should aspire to that level of excellence.

    A great guitar teacher once told me, ‘First you imitate, then you innovate.’ That’s how I learned to play guitar. I learned all Jimi Hendrix’ riffs, then Clapton, then Miles Davis, John Coltrane, any great musician who had a definitive style. Eventually, it all melds together into your own unique voice.

    Sound advice for writers too.

    Great piece!

    • Greg
      Jun 20, 2013 @ 07:11:51

      Thanks Mark!

      Yup, imitate and then make the style your own.

      I’ll have to check out Paulo Cohelo.

      Thanks for the tip.

      • Raphael
        Aug 28, 2013 @ 07:37:58

        Paulo Coelho (rabbit in portuguese)

  15. Ellie Di
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 07:10:33

    You know, a lot of the writers that I admire did this. Hunter S. Thompson, for example, wrote The Great Gatsby (of all things) and several Hemingway books on his typewriter – just to feel what it felt like to write a great work like that.

    Personally, I don’t feel the need to do the actual rewriting because for me, just reading the authors I admire is enough. They absorb into my brain while I’m reading and I get a better sense of how they did things and what makes the writing effective. My style has gotten MUCH better since I started paying more attention to that tendency.

  16. Neal Martin
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 07:14:33

    There may be some benefit in copying others work for practice etc. but I think you’d be better of spending your time writing in your own voice instead of someone else’s. At the end of the day, if you want to be a better writer then you should just sit down and write, then rinse and repeat. That’s it. It comes down to discipline, plain and simple.

    • Jon
      Jun 20, 2013 @ 07:30:24

      The problem is, many beginning writers haven’t found their voice yet. Imitating other writers with strong voice is a good way to find it, though.

      • Neal Martin
        Jun 20, 2013 @ 09:35:26

        It took me a long time and writing a great deal of crap before my writing voice really came through. Confidence has a lot to do with it as well, and knowing exactly what you want to say. The real breakthrough in my writing came when I was able to become an authority in my subject. My expertise gave me the confidence to find and use my own voice, which came through naturally, without me having to force it.

  17. Jessica Maybury
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 07:22:07

    I can see the pingback! But I thought I’d tell you anyway 🙂 I blogged about your post 🙂 It shot into my inbox at just the right time, I think, to take root in my mind.

    Thanks very much, Greg 🙂

    http://cuppatae.wordpress.com/2013/06/20/the-writing-that-made-me-write/

    • Greg
      Jun 20, 2013 @ 09:57:58

      Thanks Jessica!

  18. Frankie Obrien
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 07:46:58

    Thank you very much for giving us great information. Imitation is recognized as the most common learning method. The “who” and the “whom” had been omitted until you filled in the blanks. Many thanks from Frankie at Fit Healthy Lady.

  19. Amandah
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 07:48:28

    Good advice!

    I too am a student of Jon’s GuestBlogging course; it’s worth the investment. Whenever I submit a pitch or guest blog for review, I study the feedback. So far, my biggest (comments + shares) guest blog post is the one recently wrote for Ragan.com. Jon’s GuestBlogging course works.

    Thanks for the tip about copying a blog post and or book. I too will start with Jon’s blog posts. I’ll start with the “The Art of Being Interesting” post. I need to find my legal pads. 🙂

  20. Suzan St Maur
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 07:56:30

    It’s an intriguing idea … not sure I will do it, largely because I write so much stuff of my own (and ghost blogging) every day!

    However it’s certainly true to say that you never stop improving your writing. Sometimes when I look at articles and even books I write years ago it makes me cringe…

    Practice makes perfect. Thanks Jon and Greg!

    Suze

    • Suzan St Maur
      Jun 20, 2013 @ 07:57:07

      “wrote” even…typos, typos…

  21. Dragos Visan
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 08:09:28

    great tips. What I found even more fascinating is where your share buttons are placed down below the fold of the article. That is brilliant. Your first impression when landing on this article is uncluttered. Once you read through, it is more likely that the reader finds it worth sharing.

  22. Jac
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 08:14:56

    Great article. Not to forget that masters like Michelangelo very often only outlined their masterpieces and had apprentices do a lot of the painting. Even the Sistine Chapel was not completely painted by the master himself.

    Thanks for a great post!

  23. Willi Morris
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 08:16:53

    The journalist in me screams, “No! No! No!” Plagiarism!” Obviously this isn’t the case as you are doing it for practice, but this will be a tough habit to start. Especially because I like the sound of my writing voice already.

    But good bloggers are doing this subconsciously when they read blogging blogs! They take what they read and learn and then imitate it. My handwriting sucks (courtesy of the personal computer) but this may be on my to-do list!

    • Greg
      Jun 20, 2013 @ 10:03:27

      Hey Willi,

      Yeah, you can’t publish it and call the copy your own. Just keep them in a notebook that only you can read. 🙂

      You can also use this technique to work on a certain section of your articles. If you want to write better openings, or closings, etc.

  24. Joseph Bernard
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 09:07:11

    Hi Greg,
    I could simply rewrite your post over and over and become a better blogger. You have been hanging out in Jon Morrow’s energy, I can tell.

    Your writing is very inspirational. Thank you for expressing your own genius and inviting that in me.

    The Alchemist rocks. So too does Illusions by Richard Bach and Old Path, White Clouds (The story of the Buddha) by a wonderful writer and Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hahn. And so many more.

    My own blogging has truly gotten better thanks to rereading and using Jon as my model. Thanks Jon for your genius and for bringing Greg to us.

    Here is a recent post totally inspire in title and style under the influence of Mr Morrow.
    Why You Don’t Get Brownie Points For Suffering (not sure how to activate this link?) http://www.explorelifeblog.com/blog/2013/6/12/why-you-dont-get-brownie-points-for-suffering-1.html

    • Greg
      Jun 20, 2013 @ 10:00:51

      Hey Joseph,

      I absolutely hang out in Jon’s energy. In fact, he’s one of the bloggers I copied for a few weeks as I was trying to become a better writer.

      Thanks for the compliment!

  25. Carol Tice | Make a Living Writing
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 09:38:51

    Love this post!

    I haven’t gone so far as copying down authors whose work I admire…but I am a frequent re-reader of essays and articles I consider the apex of the craft.

    When I was starting out, I used to read over and over the original essay that was the basis of the National Lampoon Vacation movies, John Hughes’ Vacation ’58. I haven’t read it for years now, but can still tell you it begins, “If Dad hadn’t shot Walt Disney in the leg, it would have been the best vacation ever.”

    If that doesn’t teach you to write strong openings, nothing will! Think of all the income he leveraged off that piece of writing.

    More recently, as a journalist, I’ve repeatedly read a 2009 Pulitzer winner for reporting, Fatal Distraction by Gene Weingarten. It’s about people who forget their babies in the back seat of their car, causing their death. Is it a crime for which they should be jailed or a tragic accident? is the question the article explores. One of the most thorough, well-reported, well-written, life- and law-changing, heart-wrenching pieces of reporting I’ve ever read.

    Great writing draws us back again and again. As a college dropout, these ARE my teachers and my courses. I earned six figures from my writing the past couple years so I think your technique is working for me, too.

    • Greg
      Jun 20, 2013 @ 10:04:49

      You hit the nail on the head Carol. The writers you admire are the best (and most affordable) teachers!

  26. Filipe Portes
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 09:56:24

    lol … that amazing post … I need more! excellent article master. I will follow this process, I will try to do everything for you Hacker…

    • Greg
      Jun 20, 2013 @ 10:01:30

      Thanks Filipe!

  27. Mike
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 10:00:58

    I try to rewrite everything Jon writes because it’s smart stuff, it’s fun, and it’s habit from all the dictionary pages I had to copy in elementary school.

  28. Jake Johnson
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 10:06:27

    Great post Greg.

    Sometimes we want things to be more complex, but simple tips like this one go a long way. I’ve implemented this in the past but slowly got away from it, but your post has inspired me to start back up.

    That’s an excellent list of writers you got there, definitely not a bad group to learn from!

    Keep up the great work.

    Jake

  29. Roberta Budvietas
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 13:13:57

    Great points Greg. I know that working with Jon’s program and Danny Ing’s program I see my writing and blogging differently. I know that submitting guest posts and getting feedback is scary but also helpful to my learning. And having an editor work with every piece I write helps but I still have a long way to go before I become a popular blogger so I will never, never stop learning and striving to do better.

  30. Isha Sharma
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 10:41:53

    very good advice…thanx…………..
    P.S. Im 13 so i dont have a degree in anything 😛

    • Greg
      Jun 20, 2013 @ 10:43:02

      I wish I started when I was 13 Isha! Congrats! 🙂

      • Isha Sharma
        Jun 20, 2013 @ 11:29:50

        thank you so much

  31. donitta
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 11:00:20

    I like the idea, but have a question. I do my writing on the computer, because I can type quicker than write. So, shouldn’t I re-write on the computer as well? Rather than handwriting?

    donitta

    • Greg
      Jun 20, 2013 @ 11:04:06

      Donitta,

      I can type quicker than I write as well, however, you should really write it by hand. The act of writing each individual letter instead of pushing keys is what helps you learn the cadence of the writer’s style.

  32. Martha Brettschneider
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 11:32:12

    With so much “bad” content out there, I LOVE your focus on the work that goes in to the craft of writing. Stephen King’s On Writing is one of my favorite resources, but I never considered copying it by hand (I have indescribably bad penmanship, but I’ll have to get over that). As a recent student of Jon’s guest blogging course, I would have to add that to your list of recommended resources. The biggest revelation was that “good writing” doesn’t always translate into popular blogs. We need to shift our frame of reference from ourselves to our readers. Signed, an old dog trying to learn new tricks.

  33. Tom Southern
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 11:37:55

    Great stuff Greg. A real inspiring read. Paraphrases one of my favourite authors who said: “Find an author you admire … and copy their plots and characters in order to tell your own story, just as people learn to draw and paint by copying the masters.” – Michael Moorcock

    An author I know used this advice to get his own novels published. He read Roddy Doyle novels then wrote his most popular novels out by hand 3 times. It took him ages but it worked. Something creative crept inside my friend’s brain and, though he didn’t write the exact same Roddy Doyle novels, his novels are in the same genre.

    I’m not an author yet. My patience does know bounds. However, I used this same concept to write my first successful sales advert years ago and got a resounding success.

    As someone one said, creativity is all about copying the best work of others, then adding yourself into the mix. And there’s the rub: It’s You who makes the difference. It’s what I tell my clients: Give your writing your character. Or better still, “give your own story” a character all its own.

  34. Michael Hicks
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 11:40:18

    There really is genius in simplicity.

    One of my favorite movies is “Finding
    Forrester”, starring Sean Connery and
    Rob Brown. It’s a perfect example of
    how a 16 year old kid from the Bronx
    (Brown) can achieve writing greatness
    by starting with the works of someone
    more accomplished (Connery).

    If writing well is so simple that even
    a high school kid can do it, then we
    adults have no reason not to do the same.

    But strange as it may sound, human nature
    always finds a way to get in the way.

    The simpler something is, the more complicated
    humans go out of their way to make it. And since
    complexity means more moving parts, people have
    built-in excuses not to be as successful as they
    ought to be. They get frustrated, quit and go try
    something different. Then the cycle repeats itself.

    In my view, the lack of success isn’t about not
    knowing what to do. It’s about knowing what to do
    and choosing not to do it. In essence, people set
    themselves up for failure and then wonder why
    they aren’t more successful. What a shame.

    Writers write. And as Greg’s post explains
    quite nicely, the fastest way to become a
    great writer is to copy great writers.
    After all, it isn’t called “copy” writing
    for nothing…

    Wonderful job, Greg! I hope Jon invites
    you back!

  35. Cheryl
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 12:04:19

    I have read that great writers read great writers. Copying great writers to catch their rhythm makes sense. I want to give it a go. I need help with writing astonishingly amazing titles and want to write more confidently.
    Brain memory. Hum.
    I better get my pen and paper out.

  36. Jennifer Phillips April
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 12:57:19

    AWAI’s copywriting program was the first place I heard about this technique. I finally tried it and am a believer. I keep meaning to get back to it b/c I know it’s effective. Thanks for the motivation 🙂

  37. Ion Doaga
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 13:14:08

    That’s a wonderful advice.

    I see logic in here, because it’s not a fancy unclear tactic. It’s very simple. Put a lot of effort in developing the writing skill.

    I was a karate athlete. For hours we practiced one single technique. The muscle was burning, I was bored and I still had to do the technique just like it was my first kick – fast and with power.

    I will train my brain memory like that as well.

  38. Flora Morris Brown
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 13:31:12

    Graduating from college with an English major and even worse with a Ph.D. creates loads of ho-hum writers because we are rewarded for churning out uninspiring work. For fear of committing plagiarism, we were assigned to read the greats, but not to practice their style.

    When we think of copying the writers we admire as training muscle memory in the same way that the baseball player hits the ball thousands of times, it makes so much sense.

    This is one of the rare posts that tells us not only what, but how.

    I’ve heard of this technique but have never practiced it. I’ve noted the style of authors and bloggers I’ve admired, but never practiced copying their work.

    You’ve convinced me. I’m off to improve my writing and find my voice.

    Thank you Greg for bringing this technique back to mind.
    Thank you Jon for bringing Greg to us.

  39. Mitchell Blatt
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 18:41:23

    Hunter S. Thompson copied The Great Gatsby in its entirety when he was a young reporter.

  40. Anthony R.
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 19:15:49

    Jon,

    I can attest this works. Pad, paper and building a cognative reflex. I did this back in 2004, using a model novelist to develop the same abilities in myself. When I have suggested this technique of brain conditioning to other “writers,” well lets say I “Mr Computer Engineer” got looks bordering on UFO sighting. Just emailed a link of your article to two skeptics.

    Read. chose your favorite author, then stop reading. Copy, copy, copy.

    That’s the difference between writing and aspiring to write.

    Tony

  41. Leah McClellan
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 21:02:04

    This is excellent advice plus an enjoyable read. Really nice.

    I can relate to it on a couple of levels. First, I had art lessons as a teenager from my brother-in-law (yes, old master’s club), who (yeah, really) had me draw skulls over and over and over again. Diagrams of skulls and real ones. I only earned a “C” in my little informal class at my sister’s kitchen table, but to this day, though I’m not an artist per se, I can do pretty darned good portraits for an amateur.

    Plus I majored in English lit like Jon (BA *and* MA–double trouble there), and yep, I have to watch the formality. But since I’m usually living and breathing some modern-day novel or digesting countless magazine articles and blog posts, I pick up all sorts of writing styles that I consciously use. I’m like a sponge: I remember an essay I wrote as a sophomore while studying Emerson and the transcendentalists, and I cringe when I think of how I wrote like it was 1840 🙂

    It also helps that I use a lot of slang in my normal speech. Still, this is a great exercise that I’m definitely going to try. I can see how it works better than just reading and absorbing whatever because of the muscle memory: as a one-time inline stunt skater…yeah. You don’t even have to think about it after awhile. You just train over and over and over again, and your body just reacts.



    Awesome! Thanks.

  42. ntathu allen
    Jun 21, 2013 @ 02:25:17

    Greg thats a wonderful idea. I shall start tonight—October seems a long way offf! Hope I can stick to this practice as I know the discipline will be good and. bring structure to winddown routine….ummm looking forward to starting. Does anyone want to buddy up and we can keep each other inspired and accountable. A nice mindful nightime writing meditation practice. Thanks Greg for the tip and challenge.

  43. hikan sakura
    Jun 21, 2013 @ 06:44:35

    great tips that i never think about before, thanks.

  44. Christine
    Jun 21, 2013 @ 08:40:17

    This is great! I’ll start with Mitch Albom.

  45. Sean Clark
    Jun 21, 2013 @ 08:44:27

    Is there any advantage to using pen & paper with this technique, rather than just typing?

  46. Carey Lohrenz
    Jun 21, 2013 @ 09:45:03

    What a fantastic post-thank you for sharing! It would have never dawned on me to sit down and physically put pen to paper and copy great prose.
    And yet, it totally makes sense from a mind/muscle memory connection.
    Genius.
    Thanks again!

  47. Annie
    Jun 21, 2013 @ 12:06:49

    Now that was a cool post and some very fascinating advice. I’m up for the challenge – yup, this will be fun.

    Annie

  48. Dajw
    Jun 21, 2013 @ 13:09:42

    Great post. I’ve never heard of this technique before, and now I’m really starting to think about implementing it. A question:

    What do you think about book translations in terms of using this technique. Would it be still effective, since you wouldn’t be rewriting the original work but “only” a translation of it.

    Should I choose an author who writes in my native language (it’s czech)? I think even as much as translation can be good, it still lack the uniqueness of the original work. What do you think about this?

  49. Susan Bird
    Jun 22, 2013 @ 10:44:48

    Wow, what a great idea. Seriously great. It’s one of those ideas that you can feel in your bones will really work, if you just DO IT. Few will, but those few can damn well believe that they’ll come out the other end possessing much-improved writing skills. And I was especially pleased to see Stephen King listed here as one of the greats, because he is. Nice. Me like.

  50. Colette Morris
    Jun 22, 2013 @ 09:02:05

    Some really useful information here thank you so much for sharing will definitely go and put my pen and paper back to use

  51. Anthony Carter
    Jun 22, 2013 @ 18:34:50

    This sounds great. Easy to implement and results oriented. I know when I was able to write for four hours a day with no interruptions it made a huge difference.

    Thanks and on to rock star status.

    Incidentally, I copied a style of the most popular writers on a site about a month ago and watched my post get fb shares in excess of 1,000. Imitate the masters which is how we all learn.

    Anthony

  52. Jake Parent
    Jun 24, 2013 @ 06:17:22

    And don’t be afraid to fail! As Ernest Hemingway (another person who believed in copying great works word for word) said, “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit.”

  53. David-Africa Growth Opportunities
    Jun 24, 2013 @ 05:54:23

    This is fantastic and very simple. I think it is way better than most of the posts on blogging I have ever read. I will definitely do it.
    Thanks Jon and Greg.

  54. Valerie
    Jun 24, 2013 @ 10:22:42

    Great tips!

  55. Bree
    Jun 26, 2013 @ 11:01:15

    The main thing that stuck with me through all of this is that Jon got a degree in English Literature and had to unlearn all of that.

    Guess who also studied lots of literature and formal essay structures that don’t mean a rat’s @$$ now that I want to blog?

  56. Thai Wood
    Jul 09, 2013 @ 14:38:02

    This doesn’t just work for blogging though, Hunter S. Thompson copied Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms to help him really absorb their writing style, though he did it with a typewriter, all before the Times fired him!

  57. Vicente
    Jul 23, 2013 @ 05:33:58

    What a great article. I’ve tweeted it already and followed you on twitter. I’ll be coming back for more.

  58. Stephanie
    Jul 25, 2013 @ 10:18:46

    Since the moment this post came through my Facebook feed a few days ago, I have been galloping breathlessly through cyberspace, madly scribbling every which sensory power word I happened across and, my!, what a ride it’s been. This morning THE most descriptive power word popped into my head: sinister. Thanks for stoking my creative embers!

  59. Tomer Eden
    Aug 08, 2013 @ 11:46:31

    Can you provide any supporting research or substantial evidence to back up this claim (beyond the few anecdotes), before sending your readers on a 4 month homework assignment?

  60. Jennifer MDP
    Sep 22, 2013 @ 13:45:03

    Your article reminds me of “Handwriting Rediscovered” by Lorne Daniel. There’s something about writing “physically” that engages body, mind and soul. I truly believe that physically writing something can improve muscle memory in writing. I’ll give it a try right now, and I hope I can keep it up for four months. Some nights and days can be quite crazy with two buzzing, battery-full-24/7 kids. Thanks for sharing this wonderful idea 🙂

  61. Soren
    Oct 17, 2013 @ 04:55:33

    Great article, and I believe this principle applies to any art form (it has certainly transformed my guitar playing beyond all measure). Stealing: it works.

    A huge amount of defeatism here. Want to be a good writer? Be willing to try *everything* (no matter how ‘difficult’ it may be). Worried about potentially “wasted time”? Please…let’s not act is if you planned to use that time for anything other than watching mindless sitcoms.

    The best thing about the author’s approach is that only a few (slightly) crazy folks are actually willing to put this idea into practice. Less competition = good.

  62. Brijesh Jaiswal
    Jan 31, 2014 @ 05:57:10

    Great article, and I believe this principle applies to any art form (it has certainly transformed my guitar playing beyond all measure). Stealing: it works.

    A huge amount of defeatism here. Want to be a good writer? Be willing to try *everything* (no matter how ‘difficult’ it may be). Worried about potentially “wasted time”? Please…let’s not act is if you planned to use that time for anything other than watching mindless sitcoms.

    The best thing about the author’s approach is that only a few (slightly) crazy folks are actually willing to put this idea into practice. Less competition = good.

  63. Preeti Kaur
    Jan 31, 2014 @ 20:00:48

    I am going to try it soon. Typing on the laptop can make the job easier but I remember better when I actually write with a pen on a paper, like old school
    Th

    • Preeti Kaur
      Jan 31, 2014 @ 20:01:24

      Thanks for sharing this technique Greg!

  64. O
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 16:08:33

    I’m getting a trojan warning from my antivirus when opening Gregs link.

    His site was probably hacked.

  65. David Wilson
    Feb 21, 2014 @ 02:24:48

    Hey Jon, love your work! You provide great content without any “gotcha” catches. I hope someday to actually give you some monetary reward.

    HOWEVER, I have to say the link through to the Gary Halbert site was very disappointing, in so much as it is a typical “have I got a deal for you” site. It took ten minutes to stop retching before I could give you this feedback.

  66. Lisa
    Mar 02, 2014 @ 17:40:16

    Wow – an interesting read alright! Being a musician, I can totally relate to the muscle memory concept. However, it never occurred to me to literally put it into practice for writing. Will definitely have to put that into action 🙂

    Big luvs!

  67. AR
    Mar 12, 2015 @ 14:52:11

    Greg,

    Does it make a difference whether you copy by hand or use a computer? Even if hand copying is better most people people write things on a computer so would it make more sense to use a computer while copying?

  68. Sam
    Mar 14, 2015 @ 03:33:02

    I ve started my blog recently. English is not my first language.

    I find it difficult to articulate my thoughts well. This simple tip is going to be a huge help. Thanks.

    Also, I would add Chris Brogan to the list. I find his writing simple and effective.

    Thanks again for sharing.

Share
Share
Pin
+1
Tweet