Daily Archives: February 25, 2013

Monday Craft Tips #6: Using your cognitive system to improve your prose style

Today, I thought I would pass on a tip for enriching your prose style. Pick about ten novels that you really love, settle down into a comfy nook and find 2 pages in these novels of really sparkling prose. Get out a notebook and copy these pages BY HAND. Please note that typing it into your computer is NOT allowed.


Because the whole point of this exercise is to get you to absorb high quality prose into your writing, without making your prose sound like a pale imitation of someone else’s. That’s why you’re only allowed two pages per novel.

Did I mention that each novel has to be by a different author?

The point of copying it out by hand, rather than typing, is because you want to allow your cognitive system to engage with the material. Putting on my cognitive science hat, I can tell you that although the cognitive system (the one to do with thinking, decision-making and memory) is very smart, it is also very SLOW.

Handwriting, slows down the rate of input into your mind, meaning that the cognitive system has a chance to grasp it. Whereas, if you type, your fingers will be going too fast for the cognitive system to really apprehend the words. And that is the whole point of this exercise, to get the cognitive system to absorb each prose style so that it will trickle down and make itself felt in your prose style.

Give it a try, and happy writing!

Have a wonderful week!


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