In Heather Sellers' book The Practice of Creative Writing: A Guide for Students, she writes, "Imitation is a time-honored way to understand more deeply and to get more proficient at any art of skill, whether it's writing, cooking, painting, dancing, composing, acting, or designing clothes, furniture, or houses. Beginning chefs at first copy the recipe closely, getting their techniques down. Then, they start to add more and more of their own special touches, finally inventing not just recipes, but techniques and concepts of their own (which are then imitated, taught in culinary school, etc.). . . . Imitation is a great way to hone your creative thinking skills, to increase your confidence, and to help you find your way to your own best material. It's like dancing on someone else's feet. It might feel awkward, but it's a quick fabulous path to body-memory, internalizing the basic moves that separate amateur from pro. . . . Imitation doesn't decrease creativity. It strengthens and feeds creativity."
In grad school we chose poets we admired and wrote imitation poems. By imitating poet Sylvia Plath, I went to a deeper, darker place in my writing than I'd ever been before. By imitating poet Billy Collins, I found a more intimate voice, a greater sense of immediacy and subtle humor.
Who are your favorite poets and writers? Pick some of their poems and stories, then try to imitate them and see what comes up. As Sellers' writes, "Imitation is a way to practice writing." If you decide to submit your piece to a literary magazine, you can put "After (name of poet, title of poem)" under the title if you think it is closely tied to the original poem. Sellers notes, "Poets and writers often talk to each other in this complimentary fashion; it's not unusual at all. Imitation is, after all, the highest form of flattery."