Great Writers... Copy?

The Joy of Copywork

Ben Putano


You know good writing when you see it. But producing good writing is entirely different.

It’s like seeing a nasty no-look pass on the basketball court. You appreciate its greatness, but you can't just recreate it on the first try. You must practice. And practice. And practice until your arms fall off. You won’t be able to make that pass until you develop the right skill and muscle memory.

As a kid in school, you were taught that copying was cheating. I'm here to tell you your teachers were wrong.

It’s called copywork, and it’s one of the best ways to improve your writing.

Copywork is simply the act of rewriting a piece of writing you enjoy. The goal is to reproduce an exact copy of the original work: word for word, comma for comma. This process helps you develop the muscle memory to create great writing yourself.

(I shouldn’t have to say this, but here’s your reminder to not plagiarize other people’s writing by passing it off as your own. This is just a writing exercise.)

Copywork can improve all forms of writing.

  • Copywriting: rewrite a landing page or sales email that convinced you to buy.
  • Storytelling: Rewrite a few pages from your favorite book
  • Audience growth: Rewrite the best Twitter thread you saw last week.

Copywork is not a new idea. As a boy, Ben Franklin did copywork to improve his critical thinking and writing skills.

But Franklin took the exercise to the extreme: he would read an essay and then try to recreate it from memory. Franklin was built different.

Pablo Picasso was right: good artists copy.

That's how you become great.

✏️ Exercise: Copywrite 250 words

Choose a book excerpt, landing page, or Twitter thread that you think is great. Copy it word for word, comma for comma.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • This thread on the story of Apple's dominance from Nathan Baugh
  • Anything from Maria Popova of The Marginalian