I have a prurient habit: when in the mood to write, I retype things I admire. Scroll through my folder of unpublished drafts and you’ll find whole facsimiles of other people’s work, most recently a stretch from Zadie Smith’s new book about dancers and writing style. Further down are Jess Row’s New Republic essay about white novelists; the gay liberation pamphlet I quoted last Thursday; a five-part work of slash fiction by a fan of The Flash, and both the first and final drafts of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem ‘One Art’. (Writers are told to read widely. I like to think I do.)
I don’t know when I first did it or why—only that re-ingesting things this way helps me relax. It’s also made me pay more attention. The Internet’s endless distractions encourage skimming, but retyping an existing text requires you to read it closely; like wax on a headstone, it shows every contour. When I do it, I notice which lines jar in my own voice; punctuation marks I’d leave out; how no two writers sound the same and why each sounds the way they do. I think that’s made my own writing stronger. Then, of course, there’s geometry.
I pause here to note I’ve succumbed once again to eight-line paragraphs. (I’d broken free of them this month, but they’re seductive beasts.) Part of the pleasure of duplicating posts from other platforms is playing with the shape of them: seeing how Medium enjambs things differently, how paragraphs get remoulded. I’m frankly obsessed with all that, to a degree I doubt could be called neurotypical, and part of the allure of posting here is knowing where each line will end on being published. Wordpress’s awkward edit screen can’t hold a candle to that thrill.