Marilag Lubag's Blog

Copying Your Way Through Mastery

January 1, 2017
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While learning from a teacher is a good way to learn a craft, there is another way of learning. It’s called imitation. Imitation allows you to learn the basics of a craft. It also helps you to develop your sense of style. In addition, it gives you a direction on how to practice your craft. Although people often look down upon people imitating others, it’s actually the best way to learn anything.

I’ll use singing as an example. If you want to learn how to sing, you have to list your top 5 favorite singers and practice by imitating them. You do this by picking one of their songs matching them note by note until you’re close to perfection. This can take weeks—even months. And be careful—don’t overdo it. While it’s impossible to copy the singers exactly, you’ll develop your own skills by copying them. If you keep on doing this, you’ll become a good singer after a few years.


You’ll learn the basics of singing. The basics of singing are simple. Knowing how to breathe, hitting the right notes, having the right rhythm, and knowing how to modulate your voice. The rest you can learn through practice. Who could show you better how to sing than the greatest singers that have ever lived? If you imitate them, it’s like taking a voice lesson from them. That’s how some teachers teach singing to begin with—imitating them. I should know. I took voice lessons for years and have had the privilege of having a handful of teachers.

You’ll develop your own sense of style. Picking singers to imitate helps you refine your taste. You’ll realize that you don’t like a certain singer’s “screaming” while you’ll admire another’s way of hitting high notes. You might prefer Bruno Mars’ type of music over that of the Celtic Woman. You won’t know what you want until you’ve listened to a lot of singing and pick the ones you like the best. And because they are who you think are the best, it would do you good to imitate them. That way, their influence could be incorporated on you as you develop your sense of style.

You’ll have a direction to practice your craft. Practice can only help if you have a direction you want to go to. For example, if you want to be a singer and only practice singing without knowing the basic guideline of how to sing, you won’t become a good singer. Now, if you say to yourself that you want to sing like Whitney Houston (may she rest in peace), you’ll take out Whitney’s recordings and start imitating them. Now, you’re never going to sound exactly like Whitney Houston but you’ll improve more as a singer imitating Whitney Houston than if you do it without having a particular person to imitate.

If you want to be a writer, list five people you admire as a writer. Then, buy their book (articles, short stories, etc.) and start copying what they wrote by hand. Yes, the entire thing. Now, it’s going to take months (if not at least one year) but from this exercise, you’ll learn how they put words together. If you realize that you admire how they tell the stories more than how they put their words together, make an outline of the novel action by action. When you write your piece (this should be only for practice), replace the part of the sentence they used with your chosen words.

For example: “I have never given much thought of how I was going to die.”

That’s: Pronoun + auxiliary verb + never + verb + adjective + noun + of + how + pronoun + was + going to + verb

The point of the exercise is not to completely copy the masters. The point of this exercise is to better understand how the masters do things so that we can incorporate them in our work. We can learn more from them if we imitate them than if we do things our own way. To me, imitating someone is the best way to learn anything. Imitate as many people as you admire. Your sense of style would be the sum of all the people that have influenced you.


What do you think of imitating the masters?


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Stages of Learning

June 20, 2016
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I am good at singing, crocheting, writing poetry, doing hula hoop, and other things. I wasn’t born with these skills. It took hours and hours of practice and learning. You can be good too if you want.

Looking back, I realized that I went through three stages in order to learn the new skill. The fourth stage is still a work in progress but it’s part of learning too. The more you practice, the more you’ll become good at your craft. You start by having fun.

Multicolored scarf

It took me hundreds of hours to learn how to crochet and yet I still have a lot to learn.

Stage 1: Having fun

The key to learning is having fun. If you’re not having fun doing something, you wouldn’t want to do them again. Being good at something isn’t as important as having fun. If you’re having fun, then you’ll do the same activity repeatedly. I couldn’t hula hoop before the age of seven. Then, I was forced to join a hula hoop contest as a part of school festivities. I did so poorly that we were last in our grade level. That was when I decided that I want to learn. One day, while we were shopping at a mall, I bought myself one. Everyday I practiced. At first, it kept falling down my waist. After a lot of tries, I finally got the hang of it. I was having fun. I used to count how many rotations it would take before it falls down from my waist. Eventually, I tend to lose count so I started counting the minutes. I’ve learned how to do hula hoop with other parts of my body since then too.

Another example would be my crocheting. Back when I was in second or third grade, my classmates were crocheting. As I have a creative bent, I wanted to try it too. I was nine when I first held my crochet hook. At first, I couldn’t even make a slip knot. Eventually, my classmate took a pity on me and I learned how to do chains. My grandma showed me how to do a slip stitch. It was fun trying to make rows and rows of slip stitch. I didn’t know if it looks good but I was enjoying myself. I loved every moment of making fabric using a crochet hook and plenty of yarn.

Stage 2: Learning

The second stage of learning is getting yourself educated. Nowadays, all you need to do is to watch Youtube videos (which makes learning cheaper) but you can also pay an instructor or buy some books. During this stage, start learning the basics and practice. Once you’re confident with the basic skills, you can build on it and learn more things.

When I was trying to learn how to crochet, my mom bought me two crochet books. They were very small and very thin. I devoured it. Those were my only two crochet books for the first five years of my path to learning crochet.

It’s important not to get ahead of yourself during this phase. It’s better to learn the basics and do them well rather than learn too much too soon. You could overwhelm yourself. That’s what happened with me when I was learning how to write a novel. I tried to learn so much that eventually, I find myself in a writer’s block—something that shouldn’t have happened if I didn’t try to learn too much too soon. Since then, I’ve taken a long time to unblock myself. I’m still writing. However, it’s been a while since I finished a 50,000 word story.

My foray to novel writing could be crochet for you. It could be singing. Please do not make the same mistake I did and discourage yourself out of learning by learning too much too soon.

Stage 3: Sharing with others

The third stage is when you become so good at whatever it is you want to do that you’re now confident to show it to the world. Sometimes you get pushed into it. At other times, you would share it just to overcome your fears.

Back in grade school, I got into writing poetry. I just write and write and keep it in a notebook. One day, a classmate saw it, liked it, shared it with the teacher, and got it published in the school newspaper. Eventually, it gave me self-confidence to share more of my poems. I published a few more in the junior high newspaper. Then I went to college. I recited my some poem as part of the campaign to stop violence against women.

Stage 4: Becoming a professional

Once you become very good at it, you could start charging people. Sometimes, it’s your decision. Other times, it’s your friends who tell you to start charging. Either way, you’re now transitioning from making things as a hobby to becoming a professional.

Since my friends and family seem to like my crochet projects, I have decided to charge people everytime they requested something. I didn’t come into that decision on my own. Everytime someone sees me make something, they eventually ask me to make them something. I needed the money to buy the yarn. It also takes time away from the projects I enjoy making for myself. This is why I decided to charge people. Selling items require more than your skills—it requires your ability to sell your work. Sometimes, you might not want to get to this stage and keep on doing things because you’re having fun.


In my experience, the stages of learning can overlap. Still, you need to get to stage 1 first before you can get to stage 4. You need to give permission to have fun and do things even if you’re not “talented”. Play with words if you’re a writer—write even if things don’t make sense. Paint like a child. Have fun with making a mess. You need to hone your craft. Eventually, you’ll become good at it. So good that people will want what you’re offering. When you reach that point and you’re ready sell your work, you’ll be confident in what you’re offering.


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