Let’s distinguish between copying as plagiarism and copying as copywriting.
“Read this and write it out in your own words.”
Were you ever given these instruction by a teacher? One of the purposes of these instructions is to help writers to avoid plagiarism when utilising knowledge they have learned from the written work of others. If you followed the above instructions you probably noticed that the process of writing out sentences and passages in our own words is a useful way of consolidating learning of facts from reading non-fiction.
Is it a technique I believe is appropriate to use to write articles, poetry and fiction?
Can I decide I like the words of an article so much that I’ll re-order the paragraphs and the sentences, add in some extra sentences and quotes, and then call the new article my own work?
Can I decide I want to produce poetry like somebody else’s and so re-structure their poems and then call them my own?
Can I decide that I love the structure of somebody’s novel and so use it as an exact template to write the sentences, paragraphs and chapters of my own novel?
Absolutely no. Those techniques will help me to avoid plagiarism by its definition but not by its spirit. Those techniques are directly and intentionally served to copy another writer’s work, and copying another’s work and then crediting yourself as its author is plagiarism.
When I read the Qur’an to learn it, don’t I do so to try and please Allah SWT with my recitation of it? Afterwards I may re-phrase His words when talking with somebody about what is written in the Qur’an and I may enjoy the way I have structured my words. However I would not claim authorship over such re-phrasing.
Allah SWT is the witness of all my words.
If I want to learn from others’ writing styles directly I can spend time copywriting. I can copy out other writers’ works so that I observe closely and remember their techniques. Masha’Allah many great writers have spent sessions of time copywriting; they have been influenced greatly by the works they have copywritten from and developed rich styles of their own.
Great writers have not plagiarised others’ work. They have not included what they copied in their own work (unless they have been transparently interacting with another’s work). People who copy the work of others, or restructure the work of others, and then claim authorship over it, will never be great writers; they will only be copiers and liars. Allah will hold them to account on a Day when they cannot copy anyone’s else answers.
As a developing writer, your writing exercises of choice may or not not include copywriting. You can choose exercises that suit you and that will help you to improve and develop your own style for expressing your own words … and, with practice, perhaps you will find that in amongst all the hard work, you will become a great writer masha’Allah.
Indeed, Allah of what you do, is Seeing.
The Qur’an, Surah Al-Baqarah (Chapter of the cow) 2:110
Umm Hamza is a freelance writer who has written articles for SISTERS Magazine. She used to copywrite verses from scripture in her teens and early twenties; she is contemplating taking up copywriting from authors of classic fiction to learn new techniques and to improve her memory inshaAllah. In the summer she missed the Counter Counterfeiting webinars co-facilitated by YMM Islamic Editor Nadia Leona Yunis and subsequently hopes to be able to attend one in future insha’Allah.