Copy Authors to get into a groove..

Wanted to know if anyone has ever tried this and your experience with it:

I read this in an article about Hunter S. Thompson, but I am sure it has been said and tried elsewhere:
To find his “groove” early in his career, HST would grab a known author and just start “re-typing” the work, falling into a rhythm.

Now, I figured I’d give it a shot, imported some work into Scrivener, opened two panes, and typed away. At first, you just feel like you are typing something for your little brother or sister who can’t type. After a while though, you do find a rhythm, a zone. I can’t say it helps creativity, at least not yet, but you do fall into a pattern, perhaps you see the thought process of the author, I really can’t explain it. I was curious to see if anyone else has (or will) done (do) it and how it goes for you.

I’ve found this technique useful. I came across it by accident. This was back before you could get just about anything public domain already typed out. I wanted to share some short stories I’d just read to a friend who didn’t have access to a book that contained them, so I typed them up from the book. Not only did I find this to increase how much I understood and enjoyed the piece, it was a bit, as you say, like crawling into the method, or at least my interpretation of it. In that sense it helped me “locate” my own voice by having something external to it, occupying my brain. It was a reinforcement, rather than a pollution, of it.

I’d imagine it works in various degrees with different people. One thing I had trouble with was falling into a doze, where I was just carbon-copying the words without really thinking about them. If I felt that happening I’d give my 15, rest the wrists, and then come back.

Are you talking about copying word-for-word, or writing your own interpretation of the story? I can see how re-writing would help you find your voice, but how does carbon-copying a story help? Sounds interesting =)

Word for word! At least that is what I’m talking about. I don’t know, something about the process of physically duplicating another person’s words can help you find a cadence that isn’t yours, and in doing so, you can better see the good and bad stuff in your own cadence and word choices. It’s something you have to approach with an empathetic mindset, no doubt, you have to really get into those words and feel them as if your mind is making them; and then you can in your own mind see how the brain that constructed those words is different than yours, and from there you can better see yourself. If you just copy out text without really getting into it then it probably won’t do anything for you—that would be the ‘doze’ state I referred to.

Rewriting in your own style is entirely different; a good exercise, but I’d say that’s something you might want to do after you get a feel for the original author’s cadence.

How you do it depends on yourself, I’d say, but for me trying to duplicate the process as closely as possible works best. If I know the author worked on a typewriter, I use a typewriter. If I know they worked longhand, I sit down with a pen and paper. That might be overkill, but for myself it helps me get in the right frame of mind. If I just sit down with my own tools, it’s easier to just end up copying. If I approach the text by jarring my routines, then I’m more likely to stay in tune with the words.

And of course, all of this is interpretive. I don’t for one second believe that I’m really fathoming Hemingway’s brain or what have you—but going through the process of producing text that isn’t your own can get your mind out of its own rut.

Brilliant. Almost like role-playing. I particularly like the idea of using the different writing mediums that the authors themselves used. I will definitely try this! Any suggestions on literature to begin with?

Another question. I’m writing a fiction adventure novel. Do you think it would be more useful to find a piece of literature that somewhat matches the idea/genre/setting of my own novel, or to find a completely arbitrary and unrelated piece of literature?

I think it’s a good way to learn technique and craft, but I wouldn’t do it at the time whilst I was writing for publication and sale. That’s because it can be easy to pick up and mimic an author’s style, tropes and vocabulary subconsciously and risk accusations of plagiarism. I have an author friend who won’t read another author’s work whilst he’s writing, for just this reason. I wouldn’t go that far, but I would avoid copying.

They way I read it, HST did it word for word to find a cadence, a rhythm. I did it with The Old Man and the Sea and with some pieces HST did for the ESPN web site. The way I felt, HST was more of a “start banging the keys and see where it goes”, Hemingway was a bit more methodical in his approach. I guess you can try it with different authors, and see what works for you.

As far as “rewriting” a piece, I have done that, but never much liked the way “my” version came out.