This quote comes from Katie Wood Ray's Wondrous Words. I found this book a few years ago and just devoured it. In my mind, this particular quote sums up the entirety of Katie's book and the essence of the writing craft.
We live in a world where sometimes we think we shouldn't "copy" someone else's work. But how else do we really learn? When I sit down at my piano, I sometimes listen to a piano CD and try to imitate the rhythm, cadence and emotion. When I sew, I look at pictures and patterns for inspiration. Why should writing be any different?
Years ago, when I was in 2nd or 3rd year university, one of my profs told us to visit the curriculum library and to borrow a folder of A+ papers that his previous students had submitted to him. He told us to go over them carefully and learn from them. So that's exactly what I did. And back then I was NOT a very good writer. I had no idea where to begin or how to organize my thoughts. I found one essay I really liked (it was short and succinct) and I modelled my own essay after that one. You guessed it ~ I received an A and my paper was put into my prof's writing folder.
Reading and writing is so inter-connected, that it's impossible to learn/appreciate one, without the other. When I started to think this way about writing, it really helped to improve my writing instruction. I have to sadly admit that I've fallen out of the habit, but a few years ago, when reading exemplar texts to my class, we would stop and think about what made that particular book a really good one. Did we notice a pattern? Wondrous language? Repetition? Alliteration? Whatever it is we noticed, I encouraged my students to emulate the writing style.
That was the year I taught a split Grade 1 / 2 class and wow! some of my Grade 2s really took off with their writing. They wrote engaging stories following the patterns of classics such as The Important Book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and The Napping House.
One of the reasons I asked Tammy if I could join her in her "Saturday Sayings" was because I knew it would
force encourage me to reread some excellent teaching resources I have ... and I have a LOT :)
I am publicly recommitting ~ beginning Monday ~ to encouraging my students to think about and to closely examine the texts they love with a "writer's eye". I want my students to be thinking, "How can I make my writing sound a bit more like this author's writing?"
Yes, I know it's the end of the year and my students are young, but it's never too late or too early :)
Happy reading / writing!