When we think of Picasso we imagine Cubist tours de force like Guernica and Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, where horses have their heads turned around backward and young women pose with two eyes on one side of their faces. But the young Pablo used to plant himself in the Louvre before pure representational masterpieces by Rembrandt and Leonardo and copy them stroke for stroke.

Picasso didn’t always paint like Picasso

            Aspiring film directors from Columbia and NYU take their iPhones and Galaxies to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and recreate shot-for-shot the stalking sequence from Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill.

            Kobe Bryant’s fade-away jumper? He studied film of Michael Jordan till he could plant his Nikes in the identical spots on the floor and elevate with the exact same lift and rotation.

            This is work too.

            This is mastering your craft.

            I used to sit for days at my ancient Smith-Corona copying pages and chapters and entire books from Hemingway and Henry Miller. To this day I can quote entire passages from The Sun Also Rises and Tropic of Capricorn.

            It’s not aping or slavish emulation to immerse ourselves in the works of the masters to the point of copying them line-for-line. The masters did it themselves, studying earlier masters. 

            This how we learn.

            This is how we evolve our own style and our own voice.

            The young Eric Clapton studied B.B. King’s guitar work lick-for-lick, just as Bob Dylan emulated Woody Guthrie’s singing style and Linda Ronstadt listened note-for-note to Betty Everett and Buddy Holly. How many hip-hop artists have followed beat-for-beat behind Dr. Dre or Grandmaster Flash?

DO THE WORK

Steve shows you the predictable Resistance points that every writer hits in a work-in-progress and then shows you how to deal with each one of these sticking points. This book shows you how to keep going with your work.

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THE AUTHENTIC SWING

A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.

The-Authentic-Swing

NOBODY WANTS TO READ YOUR SH*T

Steve shares his "lessons learned" from the trenches of the five different writing careers—advertising, screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction, and self-help. This is tradecraft. An MFA in Writing in 197 pages.

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TURNING PRO

Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"

Turning-Pro
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"PUT YOUR ASS WHERE YOUR HEART WANTS TO BE"

Available for pre-order in paperback, ebook, and audiobook.

52 Comments

  1. uk essay writing on February 23, 2022 at 3:23 am

    Yes, copying art is one of the best ways to practice. Especially starting out.
    Art cannot be one hundred percent unique. When we see a master’s work, we also see the work of hundreds or even thousands of other masters he was inspired by.

  2. Katy C. Nix on February 23, 2022 at 3:43 am

    A Cisco CCIE Security, or a Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert Security, is a network expert that has certified advanced abilities in securing the network infrastructure of an enterprise and also visit https://bkreader.com/2022/01/28/top-4-reliable-essay-writing-services-for-students/ site for quality work. It moreover extends to access control and identity management systems within a business.

    • Bradley on February 23, 2022 at 9:48 am

      Katy, this is very subtle but I think that what you are saying is that bkreader is derivative, never moved past imitation, and should be avoided. We should go with a provider that has mastered the craft, like Picasso or Eric Clapton, instead of following the link you’ve posted here. Thank you for warning us against this “identity management system” when we should be learning the craft so that we can move on to create our own identities.

      • Alejandro Garcia on February 23, 2022 at 12:34 pm

        hehe thank you Bradley for transforming a SPAM post into something to get a good laugh about.

  3. Jackie on February 23, 2022 at 4:00 am

    Hope you all can bear a story on this subject. In high school, I wanted to study commercial art at the local vocational school. My submission was rejected because the art teacher said I couldn’t draw well enough. I was admitted under my second option agricultural technology. Though I liked plants, I bore a heart for creativity and never gave up on the dream of creating. Many years later, I realized that what I wanted to learn was up to me. I began to paint on my own with horrible results. I eventually found a group of women painters who took me under their wings. We painted together every Monday night. We learned to paint by copying other artists. The amazing thing was that though all the works were the same subject, we could pick the artist without seeing their signature at the bottom of the painting. Through the years, we each developed our own styles. After this learning process, I created original works. Occasionally, I submitted pieces to local art shows. One of my paintings hung with a ribbon next to the work of the art teacher who rejected my high school application. The lesson life granted me is this: Do whatever it takes to learn. Put in the hard work. Don’t give up. So, it is with every endeavor I choose.

    • Joe Jansen on February 23, 2022 at 4:58 am

      Great story, Jackie!

      • Jackie on February 23, 2022 at 5:27 am

        Thanks, Joe. Great coincidence or synchronicity with the license plate? Makes you wonder.

    • Brian Nelson on February 23, 2022 at 7:42 am

      Jackie,
      A dish served cold…to me potential has always trumped skill. Apparently this prof personifies the ‘those who do can, those who can’t teach’. Always thought that was rude when I think of the few great teachers I had–but resonates deeply with the 2/3 who were simply drawing a paycheck.

      Well done, I admire your grit.
      bsn

      • Jackie on February 23, 2022 at 8:58 am

        You know Brian, I never really held ill will against the art teacher. In ag-tech, I had the best teacher in Mr. Bierbower. I was grateful for all that I learned from him, most of which wasn’t ag-tech related. He was a person who believed in his students. I often thought that maybe I wouldn’t have pursued art and now writing if everything came easy. When you have to fight or struggle for something, life offers a different perspective than the usual. I look beyond reward with what I choose to do. Sometimes what you learn from the journey is enough.

        • Lin Keeling on February 23, 2022 at 9:26 am

          Amen, Jackie!

        • Brian Nelson on February 23, 2022 at 10:54 am

          Jackie,
          I was thinking about the post as I ran this morning. I should never do anything in public before I sweat—it is the only thing that wrings out my crazy, my self-absorption, my hostility…I am so capable of seeing the world as one huge fight—then I go run, which is the skeleton key to all healthy hormones and open-hearted thinking for me—and I was actually ashamed for posting that.

          I’m not surprised you hold no grudge—that is the adult response! Have a great day.
          bsn

          • Jackie on February 23, 2022 at 11:20 am

            Brian, I thought nothing negative about you for the comment. We are all human and give in to human tendencies. I only wanted to bring to light that what we may see as a hurdle, in retrospect may be a blessing. I fought harder because of that art teacher. Don’t be so hard on yourself.



      • Joe on February 23, 2022 at 8:05 pm

        Brian…

        Favorite Sopranos malapropism:

        “Revenge is like serving cold cuts.” — Tony

        https://youtu.be/aRMyTdb3a1w

    • Roxie on February 23, 2022 at 8:01 am

      Bless you, Jackie! And thank you.

    • Gigi on February 23, 2022 at 8:13 am

      Jackie, thank you for this powerful inspiration. I too had a teacher reject my writing and for many years I would not share my writing with anyone. Fast forward, I finally developed the courage to reject her OPINION of my writing and am on my fourth published work (for the whole world to see).

      • Jackie on February 23, 2022 at 9:03 am

        You rock Gigi! Don’t look to others for validation. I recently connected with the right art teacher who was as excited to teach me to draw as I was to learn. Though I can paint, I am finally drawing. Keep writing AND sharing.

    • Maureen Anderson on February 23, 2022 at 9:40 am

      Add me to the list of people who find your story relatable, Jackie!

      I once asked a writing coach to critique an essay about the grief I felt on my daughter’s first day of kindergarten. She thought the piece was “remarkably depressing.” There’s no lesson learned, she added, no resolution to a problem. An essay should inspire, she continued, and this one didn’t.

      So I did what I always did on the day of a rejection. I submitted the story to someone else. Before long, the editor of Spirituality & Health magazine was on the phone, wanting to publish it. “It’s wonderful!” he said. “One of our editors read it and said, ‘You’re going to love this one’ — and she doesn’t even have kids.” The piece appeared that spring, a three-page spread complete with photos.

      Then it clicked. What I’d been taught in sales training: SWSWSW. Some will, some won’t, so what.

      Here’s a life-defining question: What are you going to focus on as you move about your day? Are you going to pull apart and study the random insult from someone in your orbit who’s mean, or are you going to memorize the words of people who inspire you?

      • Jackie on February 23, 2022 at 10:12 am

        SWSWSW I love this, Maureen. I will remember it. Congrats on the essay and the lesson it taught. There are enough things trying to hold us back. Don’t let yourself be one of those things.

    • Tolis Alexopoulos on February 26, 2022 at 12:31 am

      Jackie, this is a very important lesson that we all must learn. It’s in our hands to create whatever we desire, and we can stand at the shoulders of the giants until we mature enough to stand on our own ground.

  4. Joe on February 23, 2022 at 5:06 am

    Driving this morning, a custom license plate caught my eye: “I AM ART.” Then I pulled up Steve’s post today and had to chuckle.

  5. Tolis Alexopoulos on February 23, 2022 at 6:54 am

    Thank you dear Steve and all friends here,

    I tried that with Tolkien and some other writers about a year ago. It was beautiful and I could feel something, a connection, something to learn. It would enter at once my own writing too, a specific part of it. But in the midst of my war with Resistance, I kept it only for a bit because my working-on-the-book hours are already threatened by my inability to focus 100% and the other aspects of life I’ve told you many times about, so I didn’t hold to this beautiful and very useful discipline in my schedule. So did I abandon the discipline of invoking the Muse like you do for the same reason. The feeling is as if I’m begging for every minute of hard work on the very book.

    You remind me again, it gets inside the mind again, may it find the way to hatch inside.

    P.s. these days I also found out about my lack of focus. I understood that my mind doesn’t focus at all when reading to correct the text, I mean it can wander all the way to the edges of cosmos but there! {So many threads of Resistance! Which do you fight first? Which last?} So now I must go to FOCUS mode. It is ridiculous: I say to myself: “now you focus for good”, I focus, and after 20 times doing exactly the same thing and saying “now focus” at the same paragraph, at the second or third paragraph I find my mind wandering again at the “great depths of cosmos” as would Gandalf probably say. Damn!!!

    But you also said something else: the bigger the Resistance, the greater the Path which Resistance is trying to stop you from reaching 😉 Thank you.

    • Tolis Alexopoulos on February 23, 2022 at 7:10 am

      P.s. I am thinking of mr. Tracy, a motivational speaker of the older ones. He said that when you have a stack of dirty plates, there is always a dirty plate on top, that prevents you from cleaning all the plates beneath it. And you have to clean that first. I wonder if something like “Resistance’s-plate-on-top” would make sense, if it is worth trying to hit Resistance’s most important “plate” first, because if you don’t concentrate on that top plate, all other battles with other “plates” of Resistance may be Resistance themselves!! It’s just a thought. So i.e. I can now sit on the chair to work for as long as I can (“clean” plate, I guess this is the first dirty plate on all of our stacks). Is my Focus, which is messed up, the second plate after that, and thus the top dirty plate? And if my sit-on-the-chair-clean-plate gets dirty again, maybe then I should leave all other plates and clean than one exclusively again.

      (yes, I’m trying to make corrections of the text and my mind wanders again! 😀 )

      • Roxie on February 23, 2022 at 8:06 am

        Indeed, you don’t need to beat yourself up for not cleaning every plate in the stack plus other stuff plus solve the universe’s problems before you can be good enough. One clean plate is better than no clean plates, and, who knows, cleaning one may inspire you to clean another.

        • Tolis Alexopoulos on February 26, 2022 at 12:34 am

          I am sure about that Roxie, thank you for writing it here. The right plate can be enough to wash, even when we can’t do anything else.

  6. Mark Watkins on February 23, 2022 at 7:19 am

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, this works for software too. I am currently copying, pixel-for-pixel, an absolutely gorgeous recipe app called Mela, and hope to use what I learn in my social reading app, Bookship. I’m learning a lot even though I’ve been writing software for decades. Thanks Steve, for reminding us about constantly developing our craft.

  7. Jurgen Strack on February 23, 2022 at 7:30 am

    Thank you, Steve, and friends of Writing Wednesdays.

    It has become part of my practice.

  8. Brad Graft on February 23, 2022 at 7:41 am

    Good on you, Jackie. Great stuff. Heartening.

    This line in Steve’s post feels key: “This is how we evolve our own style and our own voice.”

    Steve’s mentioned that he generally avoids reading fiction– for fear of losing his own voice.

    The challenge for the novice would then be in knowing when she’s achieved the right level of competency and a “voice” unique enough, where reading even the good fiction might become harmful in one way or another.

    • Tolis Alexopoulos on February 26, 2022 at 12:37 am

      It is a strange mixture indeed, Brad -copying great styles and creating your unique style at the same time.

      Maybe even copying is not copying if we put our soul on the driver’s seat!

  9. Brian Nelson on February 23, 2022 at 7:49 am

    30 years ago we were stuck in San Angelo, Texas for a 5 month military school after learning Russian in Monterey. My bestie was an AF guy who swam in HS. We double-dog dared each other to do a triathlon (Olympic distance) because there wasn’t much to do in that little town.

    I grew up in central California in which most homes had a pool, and we had a community pool where all the kids hung out all summer long. All the kids took swimming lessons from beginner to life guard. While I never swam competitively, I was very familiar with the water–probably spending 4-5 hours at the pool most summer days for 5+ years.

    When we started training for the triathlon, I was getting a stiff neck while swimming. My buddy told me, “Brian, you need to breathe on both sides. “Stroke, stroke, breathe; stroke, stroke breath on the other side.”

    It had NEVER occurred to me that it was even possible to breathe on the other side. I was fit, ambitious, and filled with piss and vinegar…but could never have swam a mile without learning from the experts.
    bsn

    • Arturo Schwartz on February 23, 2022 at 8:08 am

      Brian,
      When I read your post I did a double-take. As a type this, I’m about 30 minutes away from GAFB at which you had the five month school. You’re post is terrific reminder for me that sometimes I “don’t know best” and need to defer to someone who does.

      • Arturo Schwartz on February 23, 2022 at 8:32 am

        Please excuse the typos.

      • Brian Nelson on February 23, 2022 at 11:52 am

        Arturo,
        While at GAFB, someone said, “It is so flat here that I can look West and see the back of my head!”

        I still laugh at that. Loved San Angelo, but it was quite a shock after spending a year in Monterey.

        One profound difference was the kindness and openness of the people. The West Coast attitude has always seemed righteous and contemptuous to me after spending time in San Angelo and other small towns in the interior.
        bsn

  10. Joy Overstreet on February 23, 2022 at 8:10 am

    As a beginning essayist, I copied the first few paragraphs of one of John McPhee’s great profiles, and then rewrote it, substituting the name and characteristics of a person I knew well into his framework. With this scaffolding, she began to pop off the page. Thank you for reminding me of this excellent strategy for mastering a craft. Copy the greats!

  11. Rhonda Lauritzen on February 23, 2022 at 8:16 am

    Thanks, Steve! This is the value of making a beat sheet (Blake Snyder style) to map out the story structure of great movies and books. When we see the structure the great filmmakers or authors use, we develop the skill to spot the structure everywhere and in our own stories. Then we see the patterns emerge in true life, and it’s mind-blowing. First I studied the examples given in Save the Cat, then started looking at the ones other students posted online, then mapped out movies I love on my own, and now I can plot my own stories. Baby steps.

  12. Adam Schwartz on February 23, 2022 at 8:50 am

    Transcribing an episode of The Twilight Zone, I found myself reacting to the program much more intensely than when I watched it. I’m sure there’s a meaning to that.

  13. Simon Townley on February 23, 2022 at 9:27 am

    Inspired, I reached for one of the greats to copy, while trying to stay on theme…

    You may red light and reject me
    You may call my stories trite
    Mock me, hate me if you must
    But still, each day, I’ll write

    Do my upstart words upset you
    Like the bugs that bite at night?
    Disparage and ignore me
    If you like, but still I’ll write

    Sitting in my chair, staring at a blank page
    I write
    Howling at the moon, rhyming with outrage
    I write
    Dragging forth secrets that I dare not speak
    Finding hidden pathways I’d never seek
    I write
    I write
    I write

    (with abject apologies to the late, great Maya Angelou)

  14. Liza on February 23, 2022 at 10:01 am

    “Steal Like an Artist.” Quote from another brilliant creative write and artist, Austin Kleon. Read his book by the same name…Steal Like an Artist.

  15. Ben on February 23, 2022 at 11:00 am

    I tried this with some Jack London prose. It’s amazing how much insight you gain when you really dig deep and see what someone did. Whether it’s writing, painting, or riding a bicycle (try a few long steep hills, competitively, to appreciate how amazing Tour de France riders are), whatever the endeavor, you really look at it differently once you’ve tried it. Parenting is another that comes to mind. Much different perspective once you have to do it.

  16. Sam Luna on February 23, 2022 at 11:34 am

    I copied Robert McKee’s “Story” onto yellow legal pads while working in a box office in my 20’s. The physical act of copying carves new grooves in your brain. I remember that book so well I could probably teach it, but only because of that exercise, stuck in a box office (with no internet.)

    • Gerald A Lantz on February 23, 2022 at 12:22 pm

      Sam and so many other commentators. Support for your learnings along the way. I admire the struggles you have been through and are going through. Steve’s insights and work and those of his followers impress me weekly. I mean this deeply.

      According to his “Autobiography” (written by Alex Haley), Malcolm X learned to read and write by copying out the dictionary while he was in prison.

      I have had 3 careers for which I had no formal training: teacher — ultimately at the graduate level (by emulating the behavior of three of my best teachers in grade school, high school, and college–using notes from their classes even); advertising executive at 3 of the top 5 global ad agencies in NYC (by reading and studying the writing and ads of the greats–particularly, Bernbach and Ogilvy–worked at both of their agencies–staying at Ogilvy for nearly 18 years) working with domestic and global clients; and corporate marketing director without an MBA with P&L responsibility. Today, I write ads, rename companies, write copy of all kinds, and work when I want and don’t when I don’t want to. I made a ton of mistakes along the way; probably was not as brave and bold as I might have been had I had more confidence, but I was a sponge, learning from any and all. And I knocked myself out–I hate the cliche: work smarter not harder. Horsesh*t. You gotta do both. I’m still at it. Full disclosure: I’m willing to admit “resistance” is the constraint (many constraints) holding me back from the non-fiction book (or two) I can, should, might, want, better–write. You all help so much. Thanks

    • Maureen Anderson on February 23, 2022 at 12:40 pm

      I did the same thing on a much smaller scale when I was in high school, Sam. I copied Alice E. Chase’s poem, “To My Grown-up Son,” in my own handwriting and put it in a scrapbook filled with similar tales of grown-up regrets I was determined to avoid…

      https://i.pinimg.com/474x/2c/50/c5/2c50c5e4a61a46f725b19df62a818f37–to-my-son-poems.jpg

      The ending, “I wish I could go back and do the little things you asked me to,” played in my head constantly. When I was tempted to tell Katie no — or sometimes even after I had — I almost always reversed that decision. She wasn’t asking me to turn my back on my values, after all. Whatever it was represented a minor inconvenience, and I was not going to be the woman in the poem.

      And I wasn’t. I had zero (no kidding!) regrets about her preschool years. Which you might think would’ve helped me be at peace when she started kindergarten. Nope. Time is a formidable opponent. Making the most of it doesn’t spare you sadness at its passing.

  17. Kate Stanton on February 23, 2022 at 2:15 pm

    Just when I’m about to fall into a Resistance trap of mine — self-pity — I’m hit with some truth bombs. I’ve been so exhausted as of late, that the only thing I am producing is rough piano sketches and vocal melodies to other people’s lyrics. I hope this “season” is one of sowing for when I am ready to use my own writing voice and reap the benefits of the “mastering my craft” days. A heartfelt thank you to Steve and all the responses here…very encouraging not to be alone in this feeding of the white/black wolf Cherokee parable. May we all evolve in our craft. May we all keep learning. May we all remain humble to our muse!

    • Tolis Alexopoulos on February 26, 2022 at 12:58 am

      Nothing can stop you Kate. Self pity and all other forms of Resistance are only compasses, they show you -although they hate to admit- that you are unique and exceptional in all possible ways. There is no self pity in reality, only a set of bad feelings in our volatile hearts that gives us the chance to appreciate our agon. Hold tight!

  18. Tiffany on February 23, 2022 at 9:14 pm

    When I was quite young (maybe around five or six years old) I had a habit of taking out poetry books from the library and painstakingly copying them word for word onto fresh paper. I would work on this for hours, under my self-imposed rule that they could not be returned until I had copied out every single word. As an adult I can easily remember the intensity with which I took up this task, but I cannot easily understand why I did it. From one perspective, this might be interpreted as a pointless task (which I have sometimes reflected on with embarrassment) but I was thankful for Steve’s post today which offers up another perspective – it was a way to learn.

  19. Sharon Clay on February 23, 2022 at 9:48 pm

    Being edited/critiqued/evaluated can be one of the hardest things to work through. Then I think about the movie director who had just seen an audition and wrote of the performance: “Can’t sing, can’t act, slightly balding; can dance a little”. He had just seen the audition of Fred Astaire. Fortunately others saw differently.

  20. Jim Langer on February 25, 2022 at 6:59 am

    Did any of Picasso’s stroke-by-stroke copies survive? I am having trouble finding them. I’d love to show them to my painting students.

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