Don’t Hate, Imitate

By Nathan Lachner

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Imitatio, deriving from the Greek word “to imitate,” refers to the process of studying and emulating rhetorical features of other authors. Many students developing a foundation in writing feel daunted by the extensive possibilities of creative and academic writing. My advice to someone who doesn’t know where to start with writing would be to find a writer they enjoy and to analyze and emulate their style. Don’t mistake imitatio for plagiarism, which refers to intentionally passing off someone else’s work as your own and then lying about it. When you use imitatio, you are emulating successful stylistic features, not adopting the original author’s exact sentence structure and ideas as your own. Many renowned writers and artists look to other creators for inspiration.

Imitatio may sound counterintuitive to some because many people aim to be completely original. Yes, originality is an admirable goal, but sometimes it can be forged out of imitation, much like when an art teacher says, “You have to learn the rules in order to break them.” For example, Hemingway has a distinct style that can be adapted into your own writing. His sparse, minimalist prose emphasizes concision, so he may be a less overwhelming choice to imitate compared to other denser authors. Obviously, Hemingway is well-liked and respected within American literature; in other words, his style has been successful, therefore, it is worth imitating. After reading his prose, you may notice that he omits dialogue tags like “he/she said,” he utilizes the expletive “it” rather than lengthy noun phrases, and he avoids excessive adverbs and adjectives. These are all stylistic features that you can emulate if you want to create minimalist prose. Imitating Hemingway is especially useful for beginning writers—once you have mastered concision, you can begin adding more stylistic elements. .

Let’s tie writing into something that almost everyone enjoys—music. If we think about how musicians have imitated other artists to become popular, it may help us to understand the importance of imitatio. For example, there are many pop artists who have emulated the style of Michael Jackson. Take Bruno Mars as an example. Just because Bruno Mars emulates Michael Jackson doesn’t mean Mars is an incapable artist. It also doesn’t mean that Bruno Mars is ripping Jackson off. Bruno Mars took the example of a successful artist and utilized imitatio to contribute to his own success. In imitatio, a person can subconsciously appropriate forms and creative devices and incorporate them into their own work.

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So, what do you think? Do you think that imitatio is a form of flattery, or is it a way for someone to get away with being unoriginal? I think there are many benefits that can come from imitatio in any art form. When we imitate authors/creators, we utilize techniques and forms that have led to success.

There are examples of successful academic and creative writing on the internet and at the library. The next time writer’s block strikes, consider turning to one of these examples and replicating the successful features.

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