On the benefits of copying text word by word 📑
Well, you asked so very politely, I simply couldn't refuse: https://consistentlyinconsistent.substack.com/p/please-plagiarize-this-blog-post
Étienne, I love this post. In one of my lower-level college writing courses, one of the options we had was to rework an essay by mimicking an author's work in grammar and tone, but using our own topic. The pronouns, verbs, conjunctions, etc were all in the same syntax as the author, but we did not directly use the words themselves. It was in effort to help us understand tone, style, etc.
To this day, when I find a group of sentences I really enjoy from an author, I copy it word-for-word, then choose a different topic to mimic the author - and then I edit it to be in my style/tone. It's incredibly time-consuming but I absolutely love doing it. It encourages me to adopt a tone or style I would not have necessarily done otherwise.
When you mentioned, "But copying is a much stronger tradition in other art forms...." I immediately thought of my piano lessons growing up. As a kid, I often thought, "all these songs sound the same!" I can't always distinguish each composer now, but the fact that art builds upon itself (ie Mozart being directly influenced by Haydn) makes for better art long-term - and I no longer think all those pieces sound exactly the same.
Love this piece. Thanks for sharing it, Étienne.
"You will also absorb the overall style of the piece. It will rub off on you. Which is great, if you’d like to write in a style that you do not quite master. If you want to be funny, or solemn, or ironic, first copy a bit of writing that is in that mood, and whatever you write next will carry some of the same quality."
That paragraph ever-so-slightly reminds of this 2018 tweet from 'visa' (Visakan Veerasamy), https://twitter.com/visakanv/status/1049579132495921152:
"a lot of the value I get out of a book is not WHAT an author says, but HOW they say it
alan watts' cheekiness
feynman's joyful curiosity
winterson's radical honesty
lewis thomas's sense of awe and splendor
randy pausch's warmth"
I wrestle with plagiarism from my students quite often. One solution I have been exploring to contend with the ubiquity of Ai cheating is to have everyone write all their assignments in class. The problem I kept stumbling over with that idea was that someone could just print out an AI answer and then copy it into their essay in class. While far that is from ideal it may not be as bad as if they merely cut and pasted their way through college. At least there is the possibility they may actually become more mindful of what they are doing and eventually interject their own thought into the mix. This essay has helped me come to terms with what I must face in the years ahead.
Great post. Have you ever read the Borges short story about a contemporary writer attempting to recreate Don Quixote?
This reminds me of the Rabbinic teaching that "one who writes a Torah scroll with their own hand, is as if they received it at Mount Sinai"