We normally think of mimicry as a party trick. Which is is — but it’s also something more.
For an example, check out this skit from last week’s Saturday Night Live. It’s Bruno Mars doing dead-on impressions of Green Day, Justin Bieber, Steven Tyler, Louis Armstrong, and Michael Jackson (to save time, fast forward to 4:55 for the MJ).
Apparently Mars has been doing these impressions for years, starting with Elvis when he was a little kid. Think of what the repetitions of these imitations have done for Mars’s vocal technique, his range, and his ability to create certain vocal effects. Thanks to mimicry, he has a whole menu of sounds and moves to choose from and use.
I can testify that writers do this too. At various times in my notebooks I’ve mimicked Hemingway, Tom Wolfe, Frank DeFord, Gary Smith, and Kurt Vonnegut, and I know many others who did the same.
Here’s Novak Djokovic mimicking various opponents (his Rafa and Federer are especially good).
We instinctively want talent to be utterly original and one-of-a-kind. But the truth is, developing skill at mimicry opens a useful short-cut, because it allows you to test out proven techniques and add them to your repertoire. It also separates you from your ego, so you can make more reaches and take more risks.
The moral? Thou Shalt Steal, Mimic, Copy, Imitate, and Always Encourage Others to Do So.