I received a copy of my friend Terry Persun’s newsletter the other day. Though I am not really the target audience for his novels, I’m glad he put me on his list. I have a personal newsletter myself, which I send out with anemic infrequency, due in part to my belief that its layout stinks. I have a bunch of non-writing skill, but graphics isn’t one of them. While I’m too cheap to hire someone to do the layout for me, I’m also too disinterested in the puzzle that is my email’s design to really solve it.

Which is why I’m so glad I got Terry’s email. I’m going to steal it. No – first I’m just going to copy it. That’s not stealing. To steal something, you have to make yours. Copying is the first step in this useful theft. I’ve found that when I have no ideas of my own, it’s good to start with someone else’s. I did it when I took a swing at self-publishing and I needed design a cover. I just found one I liked and copied it.

In fact, I even did it a little copying when I was learning to write poetry as a teen. I loved T. S. Elliot, and so I wrote stuff like his just to find out how he did what he did technically. Soon, however, the poetry changed as I began to learn how to use what he’d taught me to express what I wanted to say. This will happen with the newsletter as well. Inevitably, at some point in the copying, I’ll want to do something different, and in that changing I’ll make the layout mine. Terry will never even know I stole anything.

He'll never know because in the end I won’t have taken anything from him. Copying, like clichés, is just a way to get started when I don’t know where to begin. It’s a way to trick myself into thinking something other than, “I’ve got nothing.” Instead I ask, “How’d he do that?” That can be fun to answer, and once I’m having fun, I’ve got something, and that’s when my own ideas start coming.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.