August 1

“Imitation preceded creation; I would copy Combat Casey comics word for word in my Blue Horse tablet, sometimes adding my own descriptions where they seemed appropriate.” —Stephen King

We develop our craft through strategic copying.

What’s the worst comment you can make about a piece of creative work? 

Probably “that looks just like….” 

No one wants to be accused of copying others. Yet, that’s precisely how we begin the process of developing our own voice as professionals. We look to others who are already doing what we want to do, imitate them, learn from their style and experience, then over time begin take small risks and find unique ways of expressing ourselves. This is true of everything from design to writing to management styles. Most early managers largely imitate their own managers prior to figuring out how to find their own leadership style. It’s perfectly natural to do so.

If you feel stuck, or want to develop a new skill, the best way to do it is to find someone who is already great at that skill and simply copy them. (A quick caveat: don’t do this in public work or work for hire! We’re not talking about plagiarism, but about skill development.) 

Imitation is, indeed, the best form of flattery. It’s also the first step toward growing as a professional and, eventually, being someone who is copied by others.

Question: Who does work you admire, and what elements of their work can you copy and practice to help you develop your own voice? 

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