I first spied Francine Prose’s book, Reading Like a Writer, while shelving at my former job. I sneaked a few moments to read the first few pages and instantly fell in love. The sentence that resonated with me, “Like most–maybe all–writers, I learned to write by writing and, by example, by reading books,” combined with, “Long before the idea of a writer’s conference was a glimmer in anyone’s eye, writers learned by reading the work of their predecessors,” confirmed for me that I had found a kindred spirit. Her passion for reading and writing and the process of learning by indulging in both was the best piece of advice I had ever heard. Mrs. Prose’s comments awakened in me what I always believed to be true: great writing is an organic process that comes from creating beyond outlines and plot-pointed structures with perfect character arcs.
Great writing begins with close reading and follows with careful consideration for every word that will become a sentence, which will become a paragraph. This isn’t to say that Mrs. Prose or I believe writing should be utter chaos without any structure, but I trust if one applied her approach to their own writing, he or she would see amazing growth in how they create characters, employ narration and dialogue, and present details and gestures.
Woven throughout the book are examples from great writers that will back up what Mrs. Prose is teaching. You don’t need to be familiar with these authors or their works to appreciate them. Another reviewer I read proclaimed his dislike for Mrs. Prose’s book because he didn’t know any of the referenced works. I suspect he thought Mrs. Prose was being pretentious; I encourage you not to be intimidated by her knowledge but rather delve into the suggested reading list as soon as possible.
Another aspect of the book that appealed to me is Mrs. Prose’s admission that while there are rules in writing for the express purpose of guiding us, rules are, essentially, meant to be broken. And if you’re brave enough to ride off the reservation of writing rules, make sure you’re breaking them brilliantly.
Regardless of your preferred writing style or approach thereof, I highly recommend reading Francine Prose’s book. I would be truly surprised if you didn’t take away something positive from the experience.