"Close the door, Eddie," he said. "Have a seat."
I closed the door and sat down. Across from me was the editor who, days earlier, hired me on as a Jr. Copywriter.
"I read your first draft," he said. "This is good stuff."
"You didn't let me finish," he said. "It's good for an English major, nice and flowery. But you're not a student anymore, are you?"
"No, I'm not."
"No, you're not," he said. "You're a professional writer now, have been since you signed this paper." He held up my contract.
Christ, I thought, is he going to fire me?
"I'll admit," he said, "I saw this coming. I saw your samples. You know, you can't write like this anymore, like you're some fuckin' Alexandre DOO-MAH ..."
He looked at me. I blinked.
"We're copywriters," he said. "We keep things tight." He turned toward his monitor and clicked. "I just sent you an email," he said. "Go open it."
I went back to my desk.
There it was:
Eddie, I like the way you think. That's why I hired you. But your writing sounds like the books you studied in college. That's not what I'm looking for.
I need clear, concise copy from you. And here's how I'm going to get it: tomorrow, first thing, I want you to read this and this and this by Gary Bencivenga.
Then I want you to transcribe it all by hand, twice, until his voice is in your bones.
How to sound like your favorite writer:
Transcribing another writer's work, a practice called copyworking, will help you internalize her voice. Her syntax and diction, her punctuation and cadence: it’s all there for the taking, but you have to slow down to absorb it.
At first, copyworking feels wrong.
At least it did to me. It felt unoriginal, like plagiarism.
I’m a writer, I thought, not a typist.
Little did I know, Jack London and Robert Louis Stevenson and Ben Franklin and Hunter S. Thompson all practiced copyworking.
“You get why I’m asking you to do this?”
I looked up from my screen. My editor was standing over me. “Yes,” I said. “I understand.”
“You have to be more concise,” he said. “You write like a water hose. I need you to be a nail gun, like Bencivenga."
I nodded. “Can I type these out, instead?”
“No!” he said. “You’ll learn better if you write it longhand.”
So I did.
Next time you read something and think, Damn, that was good, save it, bookmark it or whatever. Then come back to it in a day. If you still like it, copy it by hand, slowly and meticulously.
Copy it over and over.
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