Jam of the week: “Royals”, by Mayer Hawthorne

Why a cover of a good, catchy song? Because it’s a good cover of a good, catchy song. There’s much to be said about his oh-so-dreamy voice and the fabulous drum part, but the beauty here is in the new vision of the original song and the unique spin that was put on what could easily have been a straight forward copy. Mayer Hawthorne takes the popular song, “Royals” by Lorde, and turns it into a funky, snazzy jazz tune. While “Royals” is indeed my guilty pleasure and I do love this cover, the point that this here entertaining example is meant to illustrate (that I hope gets stuck in your head all day) is not that this is a great song (though it is).

The point is that sometimes wonderful things come from imitation. Each of English Professor William Penn’s course packs begins with a note on imitation. In this note he says that imitation is “a useful activity that helps students find where stories are, learn how they begin or are structured and told, and discover the truths that all stories come out of other stories and there are no new stories, only interesting ones retold.” At first I was skeptical. Why would copying someone else’s work make me a better writer? They’ve already written that; copying it is just plagiarism, right?  No, because that isn’t what imitation means.

Imitation in writing will “force you to get outside yourself, observe the world and all its myriad details and images and select ones that are appropriate to your story” and let you emulate a writer that you admire. You’re not plagiarizing their work, you’re drawing inspiration from a word, a sentence, a vague idea, or even a tone or style, and you’re letting your work take shape from that. When you’re that inspired, your writing will shine and you’ll have no need for plagiarism. No, you won’t always need or want to imitate things that you read, but it is a great tool for breaking through writer’s block and allowing yourself to figure out your own voice as a writer.

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