1. Drinkingcrane

    Drinkingcrane New Member

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    Transcribing another authors work

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Drinkingcrane, Aug 11, 2018 at 7:41 PM.

    my favorite book is blood meridian and I have been thinking of transcribing it. My intention is to build good writing in muscle memory and to gain a deeper understanding of the structure of the book. I heard that Hunter S Thomson did this with the great gatspy. What are others opinions of this. Has any one else done this? Do you think it will help my writing or is it just a wast of time.
     
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  2. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    I do this all the time. I think it's incredibly eye-opening.
     
  3. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    I've never done it and don't think I ever would. I don't think muscle memory works for something as complex as writing, plus you don't want your muscles to remember how to type someone else's words...

    It may be an effective way to make yourself slow down and really focus on the writer's words, so I can see it being helpful from that direction.
     
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  4. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Bothered

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    It depends on how your brain works and how you best learn, analyze, and retain information. For example, I have a photographic memory that's best activated by handwriting. So if I were to transcribe a couple of chapters by hand, I'd likely remember every word and be able to recall it to recite it but would not be able to see the underlying structure of how the author put the sentences together. To analyze something, I would need to study it in a different way.

    So, what activates the analytical part of your brain when you learn something?
     
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  5. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    That's how it is for me. The first time I did it, I thought that my prose was roughly equal in skill to the pages I was copying. Afterwards, I read the words again and realized I didn't know the first thing about prose. I can't explain why it helped, but copying it triggered something in my mind that let me see what the author was doing.
     
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  6. NigeTheHat

    NigeTheHat Contributor Contributor

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    It's a technique used a lot by people learning copywriting - though transcribing long-form ads in this case, obviously. The effect is to make you more naturally mimic that other writer's style: their flow, their sentence structure, how they construct their arguments. As an example, in direct response ads it's almost always best to use short sentences and paragraphs, because that makes the experience of reading faster, so the person reading is more likely to keep going. This is the opposite of how most people naturally write, but spend a week doing nothing but transcribing letters that use short paragraphs, and you will start doing it too.

    It doesn't work for everyone - or at least, it's not necessary for everyone. I tried it, but I'm an effective mimic just from reading so it didn't do much for me. Not everyone is.

    Personally I wouldn't do it for fiction writing even if I had found it useful as a copywriter, because the effect is to force your voice into a mould that's known to be successful. In ads, this is desirable - you don't care about style, you just want the fucker to sell. In fiction, for me, half the fun is finding my own voice to tell stories in.

    But that is a personal preference. If there's an author out there whose style you admire and would like to use yourself - or if you're writing for a specific genre audience and want to make sure your voice matches successful books in that genre - then you might find it helpful.
     
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  7. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Contributor Contributor

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    Where cushions are comfy, and straps hold firm.
    You just have to write, keep writing, and write some more. That is the only
    way to really hone your skills as a writer.

    I think it was Bradbury (correct me if I am mistaken) who said you have to
    write at least a million words to even come close to being a decent writer.
    I am kinda paraphrasing of course.
     
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  8. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    Whatever works for you. I know this doesn't work for me. I've tried this for fun, but it doesn't work—for one simple reason. When I'm transcribing, that's exactly what I'm doing. Transcribing.

    I don't want to make typos. I need to pay attention to punctuation, etc. So I'm more concerned word-by-word than I am about the overall effect. I'm just copying the words. I don't need to think about what they mean. All I need to do is copy them correctly.

    I suppose, if you can divorce yourself from this need to be correct, the exercise will slow you down and make you aware of what the author is doing, sentence by sentence. It's important to recognise what they leave out, as well as what they include. If you can do this, I suppose this might be a very beneficial exercise—ut only if you can get a notion of why they chose these particular words and didn't choose others. Whatever improves your writing, do it!

    However, the best thing you can do for your writing—in my strongly held opinion—is read. Read for pleasure. Read what you love. Read A LOT. Then, when you are writing yourself, you'll have acquired a feeling for what works and what doesn't. You'll understand how the kind of storytelling you want to do is done. It's all osmosis and painless and fun. Why not?

    You don't have to read WHILE you're writing, by the way. Some authors find this very distracting and counter-productive, and deliberately don't read other people's fiction while they're working on their own. But you won't find too many good authors out there who have never read for pleasure. Most of them recommend voracious reading as a prerequisite to writing. I totally believe they're right. If you don't love the medium, how can you instill that love in somebody else?
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2018 at 9:07 AM
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  9. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    You jumped to typing, and that's what I thought of first, too, but I wonder if the others are talking about hand writing?
     
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  10. NigeTheHat

    NigeTheHat Contributor Contributor

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    I was certainly referring to hand-writing. The theory is that hand-writing rather than typing helps you retain more of the style because you're taking it slower and concentrating more. I don't know how true that is. Certainly the advice to 'hand write ads' comes from an age where you couldn't just assume the person doing it would have a personal computer, and I suspect these days people hand-write because the advice says hand-write and not type, and people do love their dogma.

    I think there's a bit of a false assumption here in what the idea behind doing this is. I don't think it's about analysing, or recognising what the author's doing and what they aren't. Transcribing's just another way of getting the osmosis that you're saying you can get with reading, because not everyone does get it with reading, or they do but find writing it out makes the process far faster.
     
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  11. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    I suppose they could be. Or some of them probably are.

    I don't think it would matter for me, though. I'd still be worrying about doing it correctly AND probably cussing because my handwriting is so bad as well. :eek:
     
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  12. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, like I said, whatever works for you. I can see where it seems to work for other people as well. It would certainly do no harm.

    I just found it didn't work for me at all, when I tried it. I got all done transcribing a paragraph or page and couldn't have told you what it was about. No osmosis ...just job done—next? However, if I had simply READ the page, I would have taken on board what it was saying and, to some extent, how it was said.
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2018 at 3:20 PM
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  13. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    I hate handwriting things so much that I doubt I'd last 5 minutes into the exercise. I absolutely believe that it might be helpful for some writers, but I'm self-aware enough to realize that transcribing someone else's work by hands is probably what my assigned punishment in Hell will be if I wind up there. :twisted::twisted::twisted:
     
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  14. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    When you write there is something going on in your brain and something going on with your hands. I don't see how rewriting a published work either by hand or by typing is going to do much for the brain part of writing. Sure, reading is a big help, but you can just read and I think it will have the same effect. If there is any muscle memory involved in writing, it's in the brain not the hands.
     
  15. Drinkingcrane

    Drinkingcrane New Member

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    I appreciate the responses in this thread. I guess it comes down to reading and writing. Deceptively simple. I guess my next question is how do I read? How do I understand something at a deep level. I’m talking about word choice sentence construction, paragraph construction. So I can follow in the footsteps of the great authors... at least as much as I’m able.

    How do you read?
     
  16. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I just read. I don't think you have to do more than that. But read a lot and expose yourself to as many things as you can. I don't write poetry, but I read quite a bit of it and have noticed a difference in my fiction because of it. Read a lot. But there's nothing you really have to do along side that. If you have to think about too much, I think it would be a distraction. Lose yourself in great stories. Some of it will sink in just as a result of that.
     
  17. Drinkingcrane

    Drinkingcrane New Member

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    I don’t have to think about it to much? How disappointing. Lol
     
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  18. Amontillado

    Amontillado New Member

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    An interesting exercise. I can think of something that may work a little better, at least for me.

    A long time ago I read a political book (I shan't go into which end of the spectrum it favored, if either) that was packed with linkages between people and organizations. The author made a mess out of keeping it all straight.

    At the time I relied heavily on The Brain for document storage and note-keeping at work, so I fired it up and started making notes and associations from the book. It was great. The facts made a lot more sense when I made a picture out of them, so to speak.

    I think you're on to a good idea, but maybe not by transcribing the particular verbiage used to tell the story. There is more than one phrase by which a rose may also smell, and the particular word choices probably aren't the magic in what you like to read. Good word craft is important. It's a multiple choice test, though, with multiple right answers.

    Mind-mapping or otherwise tracking the connections in the story, though, that would be a good course of study. Categorize what's used in the story. Track the way the pieces come together, particularly with any plot twists jumping out of the aether.

    Nice food for thought. Thanks, from a fellow newcomer around here, for posting.
     

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