Writing is like building a home. Just as good architects and contractors take notes from other homes they see, good writers view the work of others. They learn, copy, and expand.
Simply put: good writers read.
When I was a child, my family built our house. We bought a plot of land, picked out some blue prints, and hired a team.
We also visited every home we could. We visited completed homes and homes under construction. We learned from other home builders, architects, and engineers.
If we hadn’t talked to people, we never would have thought to put electric outlets on the exterior of the second floor for Christmas lights. We never would have thought to put rolling drawers in the pantry.
In building our house, there were plenty of neat ideas we picked up on from other builders.
And in the same way, there are plenty of lessons you can learn from other writers. What might scare you about this is copyright.
When possible, give credit where credit is due. For example, this entire post came from something Holly Lisle said in her interview with The Write Practice a few weeks back when she called writers house-builders and readers house-buyers.
Writers are hammer-buyers. They want the best tools you can offer them, and they generally don’t want to go anywhere near YOUR houses, in case the way you build rubs off on them and changes their image of what they want to build.
And I’m saying, go near others’ houses and let their building rub off on you and change the image of your building.
“Copy from one, it’s plagiarism. Copy from two, it’s research.” – Wilson Mizner
My family didn’t walk into one house, draw out the floor plan foot-by-foot, and call it our own. We visited every house we could legally enter (ok, and some we couldn’t). We learned the tools and tricks of the trade. Our home was a collaboration of input from many expert home builders, real estate agents, and home owners. Like good writers, we collected ideas from a variety of sources rather than a single one.
Learn, copy, expand. Now you try.
What have you learned, copied, or expanded upon from other writers in your own work?
Spend ten minutes writing a scene set inside a house—a new house, an old house, a large house, a small house—you pick.
Spend five minutes viewing and critiquing other homes (aka read and give feedback on other practices)