Artist and writer Austin Kleon writes in his book Steal Like an Artist
that we’re not born with a style or voice; instead, “We learn by copying.”
But copying is different than plagiarism. Plagiarism is “trying to pass someone else’s work off as your own.”
Copying, however, is about reverse-engineering, “like a mechanic taking apart a car to see how it works.”
Kleon suggests answering the below two questions to copy effectively:
1. Who should you copy? Your heroes. He references the paradoxical phenomenon that if you’re seen as being influenced by one person, then you’re considered the next version of that person; but if you’re influenced by 100 people, then you’re considered original.
2. What should you copy? Kleon writes that you want to go beyond copying the style of your heroes, and get to the thinking behind their work: “You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes.”
To make your own unique contribution to the world, as you’re copying your heroes, pay close attention to where you fall short, and ask yourself: What makes me different?