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[84] Reading Like A Writer – Francine Prose

prose.jpgHow do writers learn to write before the age of creative writing class? Whereas a good writing workshop provides an audience that sustains a writer, creativity cannot be taught, nor can the love for language be transmitted from mentor to student. Aspiring writers have to read the works of their favorite writers–both for pleasure and also to be conscious of their style, their diction, and their deceptively minor decision they make. Writing is by no mean a one-time achievement, it’s a continuous process in which writer hones his skills by practice, by trial and error and by repetition.

Close reading helps her approach difficult aspect of writing, which could be different for each one of us, by providing her models that inspire her with the energy and courage it takes to resume the process of writing. Likewise, a major harbinger of personal failure would be my being a non-native speaker of English, and I pick authors for reasons having to do with what I see as my own inadequacies.

Drawing from a plethora of resources across the genres (which inevitably stacks my reading pile higher), Francine Prose, while demonstrating how close reading can help us be alert of details between the lines and whereupon improve our writing, she also examines components that might enhance fiction writing: character, detail, dialogue and gesture.

The book focuses on close reading, the result of her love of language. This love for language engenders in the reader a desire to not only see sentences snap into place (no doubt is important), but also to wish seeing them emerge in a more polished form. I have learned, outside of my writing class, to vary sentence pattern, to employ good diction, and to creative more crisp prose by imitating authors whose works I have admired and re-read over the years. This is what Francine Prose tries to convey: read the story but read also beyond the plot. At each re-reading new meanings will evoke, owing to the significant fact that time and age affect our understanding of what we read.

This book is an inspiration to writer. It also gives me courage to write.

15 Responses

  1. good advice. i’ll have to check it out.

  2. I think I need to read this book. Even as a native speaker, I find the writing process difficult. I’ve tried my hand at a few short stories, and, after I read them over, I’m aware of many inadequacies. Your description of Reading Like an Author suggests that the book has some insights to offer the aspiring writer. Since I find that reading a passage or two of excellent prose rekindles my desire to meet the challenge anew, learning to read more closely with certain techniques in mind may be helpful. Interestingly, two of my favorite stylists are Conrad and Nabokov — two remarkable writers for whom English was a second language. So here’s wishing you good words, good reading, and your own continuing inspiration.


  3. I’ve had my eye on this one for some time, and you’ve just inspired me to look harder for it! I’ve enjoyed Prose’s fiction that I’ve read thus far, so I’m interested to read what she has to say.

  4. The book is indeed inspiring to me as a writer and reader whose native tongue is not English. This one becomes a reference tool for me, in addition to and on the same par to, say, The Elements of Style.

  5. Well, another one for the list! I also am a non-native speaker, although I try and pride myself on being fluently bilingual… thanks for the signpost!

  6. I’ve always been taught that a good writer always reads. I may need to pick this book up.

  7. Greg: Very interesting insight. I read a newspaper article how teens who write well and love to write are those who read a lot when they were younger. I’ll blog about this subject later.

  8. I have no doubt that good writing can be taught to some degree, but I’ve always believed that the best and most effective way to become a good writer is to read, read, read.

    This was an interesting post.

  9. Kudos to Thom. We absorb and make a mental note the style of our favorite writers and transcribe over to our own writing.

  10. I can tell you from experience that it’s true — and it’s not just a matter of learning style. It’s also developing a love for narrative, a passion for the idea of story telling. I write because I love stories — I love reading them and telling them. Of course, it also helps you learn the language — and that goes for native speakers as well as non-native — because when you write, language is different from when you speak — it must do more than spoken words do, because the reader can’t see your face, your expression, or the object to which you are pointing, and there is no body language or tone of voice — the language must carry all of this. And reading fills you with the ideas, the images, the information you need to really be a good writer.

    So good luck to you in your continued pursuit of writing — reading is a great place to start.

  11. Hi Matt, thx for dropping by my site… I love your writing and your recommendation. I’ll definitely check this out.

    I’m non-native English speaker/writer. I used to be able to express myself very well in Chinese. However after all these years, I think I cannot write that well in either of these to languages. T_T

  12. Just a note to thank you for your review of Prose’s Reading Like a Writer. I found all of the book very helpful and much striking and good advice leaps from its pages; it will take place of honor among my collection of literature commentaries.

    I’m starting the second read through, and I’m sure I’ll return to its pages frequently for inspiration and guidance. It’s refreshing to be encouraged to relish the beauty and mastery of language encountered in the masterpieces of the past and to be encouraged also to read these works closely to improve our own writing. (The thought of attending a writing workshop absolutely horrifies me.) I particularly enjoyed the chapter “Reading for Courage.” Her list of masterpieces to be read immediately seems very well chosen.

    All best,


  13. […] denial of my passion in language and writing when I opted for science in my undergraduate career. Francine Prose in her book points out that the key to improve writing is to continue practicing, through trail and […]

  14. […] The Birds Fall Down, Rebecca West Francine Prose in Reading Like a Writer recommends it as one of the books to be read immediately for its well-made sentences that transcend […]

  15. […] become a witness to the momentous events leading up to the Russian Revolution. Francine Prose in Reading Like a Writer has cited the beautiful opening paragraph as an example of one that grabs reader’s immediate […]

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