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How to Avoid Copycatting (and Become Your Own Badass Self)

My seven-year-old, who is a prolific author, illustrator, and songwriter, recently asked me,

Mom, how do I write songs that don't use music from Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, and "Cheerleader"?

The obvious answer is, "Don't copy them. Make up your own stuff."

The thing is, it's not that simple, at least not in the beginning.

In the beginning, you have an idea of something you want to do or be. The How hasn't presented itself yet, but you know, "Hey, I want Dita von Teese's retro-modern glamour," or "Hmm, I think I want to write a really amazing blog."

Then the search begins. HOW do you go about this new venture?

When you set out to do something or become someone, you tend to copy the crap out of whatever it is that you want.

You want to be an amazing blogger? You check out some top blogs—let's use Chris Guillebeau, Marie Forleo, and Danielle LaPorte as examples—and see what they're doing.

You examine their design. Full-width and hero images and above-the-fold information abound.

You study their content. Recaps, lessons learned, and deep thinking on deep topics are the messages du jour.

You even analyze their sidebars. Say a little about yourself, give visitors an option to sign up for email updates, and sell what you have to sell. 

So you take all of your new-found information and create a blog with a full-width hero image, a sidebar with a sign-up area, and articles full of deep thoughts and hard-won lessons.

Do this, and you'll probably end up with a pretty decent website—with room for improvement.

Making the Jump from Imitative to Imaginative

In his free report "Headline Hacks," author Jon Morrow writes:

One of the worst ways you can torture yourself as a writer is to believe everything you do has to be original. Yes, it's possible, but you'll get comparatively little done, and the continuous pressure will give you a nervous breakdown. It's far, far better to steal. No, you shouldn't violate copyrights or willfully claim someone else's work as your own, but the writers who make it in this business ... are the ones who watch what's working for everyone else and then creatively adapt it for their own. (Emphasis mine.)

This idea can be applied to anything—to your style, to your business, to your parenting methods, etc. The idea, of course, being that you use what works as your initial template and then tweak it until it's uniquely yours.

As I explained to my daughter, this initial copycat stage is about practice and influence.

Practice

By more or less copying what already works, you're training your mind and your muscles to replicate a successful format or style. As you build your muscle memory and create a mental library of workable schemata, your blatant copying ceases to be imitative and transforms into that which influences you.

Influence

We do not exist in a vacuum. Over time, we see something intriguing, try it out, retain what works for us, and discard that which doesn't. We combine ideas, applying Method A to Information Set B, to create something new.

In Think and Grow Rich (aff), Napoleon Hill refers to this as "synthetic imagination." He writes:

Through this faculty, one may arrange old concepts, ideas, or plans into new combinations. This faculty creates nothing. It merely works with the material of experience, education, and observation with which it is fed. It is the faculty most used by the inventor [...].

Over time, and with practice, our own creative energy seeps in. We are no longer copying anyone; we are influenced by previous pioneers in our fields and are adding to the collective knowledge with our own, original contributions.

Which is badass.

Let's Recap: How to Become Your Own Badass Self

1. Claim Your Desire

Before any evolution can start, you absolutely, positively must claim your desire for growth, newness, and/or change. If you want to be a stagnant, cookie-cutter person, no claiming necessary. But if not? Own it, darlin'.

2. Find and Imitate Your Role Models

A caveat: this is an intermediate stage. If you never get past imitation, you will always be a copy.

This step is for learning what you love and what you prefer to leave behind. As you amass experience and knowledge, magic starts to happen and your originality begins to emerge.

3. Apply Your Imagination

Take Dita von Teese's signature red lipstick, but change it to a bold pink. Embrace Marilyn's blonde tresses and style it a la Audrey. Throw on Jackie's double-strand pearls, but make them match your lips.

Guess what—you've just created a midcentury-inspired look that's totally your own.

4. Continue to Refine

You will always run into new influences, trends, and fads, whether it's in the world of online publishing, fashion, or something else. If you see something you like, try it out. If it works, great; if not, no big deal.

The same goes with older things that you may have previously chosen for yourself. If it still works, keep it going. If it no longer fits in your life, get rid of it.

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Being your own, badass self is a constant process. As you continue to process and either retain or reject the influences around you, You—yes, with a capital Y—will emerge. Beautiful, original You.

Add to the conversation: how do you remain your own badass self?