The Joy of Copywork

A few months ago I mentioned Ann Kroeker’s podcast about writing.  In a recent episode she mentioned using copywork as a way to improve your writing.  My ears perked up because I had recently come across a poetry copywork book edited by Sally Thomas.

My mama and the two oldest at Silver Falls

Of course I keep commonplaces–quotes and such that strike me as I read–in my journal. Here’s the latest poem that I’ve copied out: “Poem for a Daughter” by Anne Stevenson.  But I was intrigued by Sally’s book because I wanted to read and copy her selections.  This resource is meant as a way to study English poetry from 658-1920.  But more widely, I wanted to learn from a master poet.  I wanted to copy not only what was catching my eye, but what had caught Sally’s eye.

I’ve used personal copywork during our school routines too.  When I need to be nearby, but not necessarily teaching, copywork keeps my hands busy.  I don’t open the computer or wander off to do chores.  I’m available, but I’m not hovering.  I think it also helps for the children to see me doing the sort of work I ask of them.  This really is a good way to spend your time!

So I’ve got a notebook and new pen and am ready to start copying a few lines a day. I’ve got hopes that the practice will bear fruit in my own poems.  But the practice is a good one nonetheless.  Might even add it to my morning routine during the summer.

Do you practice copywork?  Are there other ways that you are actively trying to improve your writing?  More Poetry Friday goodness at Beyond Literacy Link.



  1. I hadn’t thought of the copying in that way, but I do copy lines & whole poems, & when I taught, my students were asked to bring a poem to share that they had “copied” into their own notebooks. I thought that it would help “slow” them down so they could look more deeply into the poem. Going slow does help, don’t you think?

    1. Yes, Linda, I think one of the main benefits for me is the slowing down. I have a tendency to rather plow through things when slower would definitely be better.

  2. What a lovely thought — using someone else’s commonplace book as one’s own copywork. Especially someone with literary eye and ear. I’m going to think on this more in my own practice. Thank you for the idea, Kortney!

  3. I really try to write as much by hand as possible – like Linda B. mentioned, I find that it helps me slow down my mind, which can tend to race forward at a manic pace, and by only going as fast as I can write, it helps me reign in some of the mental frenzy!

    I also used to rewrite all of my school notes by hand when I was a student – it was the best way for me to commit everything to memory. There’s something about writing something by hand that really helps you connect with it!

  4. When I copy other writers’ lines by hand, I’m conscious of walking in their tracks and I try to adjust my stride to theirs in order to learn to be a better writer. I’ve never made it a formal study, though. Perhaps I should join you…

  5. This is an interesting post. When in grade school, penmanship was taught. I enjoyed that art. Then, I picked up calligraphy. That art became intensive work but enjoyable. I do like to copy quotes because it helps me think through the line and add my own. Thanks for introducing the joy of copywork.

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