Francine Prose’s 'Reading Like a Writer' Quotes to Write Well

Originally published - May 2018

Francine Prose’s 'Reading Like a Writer' Quotes to Write Well

Author Francine Prose, (AP Photo/Paul Hawthorne)

In 'Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them,' Prose invites us to sit by her side and take a guided tour of the tools and the tricks of the masters. She reads the work of the very best writers—Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Kafka, Austen, Dickens, Woolf, Chekhov—and discovers why their work has endured.

She cautions readers to slow down and pay attention to words, the raw material out of which literature is crafted. “All the elements of good writing depend on the writer’s skill in choosing one word instead of another,” she says.

Written with passion, humor, and wisdom, Reading Like a Writer will inspire you to return to literature with a fresh eye and an eager heart; to learn how to focus on language and create unique and powerful people and stories.

Let's highlight some insightful quotes from the book for those who want to write well.


Quotes from Francine Prose’s 'Reading Like a Writer'


Here're some powerful insights and quotes by Francine Prose from her book to inspire you:


“If we want to write, it makes sense to read—and to read like a writer. If we wanted to grow roses, we would want to visit rose gardens and try to see them the way that a rose gardener would.”

"The best writers are those who pay attention to the smallest details, because it is often in those details that the true essence of a story lies."

“good writing should be grasped at once—in a second.”

“The brief sentence can be just as effective, since what matters is not complexity or decoration but rather intelligibility, grace, and the fact that the sentence should strike us as the perfect vehicle for expressing what it aims to express; the sentence should seem ideally suited to whatever story or novel or essay it happens to appear in.”

“Read your work aloud, if you can, if you aren't too embarrassed by the sound of your voice ringing out when you are alone in a room. Chances are that the sentence you can hardly pronounce without stumbling is a sentence that needs to be reworked to make it smoother and more fluent."

“Reading Chekhov, I felt not happy, exactly, but as close to happiness as I knew I was likely to come. And it occurred to me that this was the pleasure and mystery of reading, as well as the answer to those who say that books will disappear. For now, books are still the best way of taking great art and its consolations along with us on a bus.”

“For any writer, the ability to look at a sentence and see what's superfluous, what can be altered, revised, expanded, and, especially, cut, is essential.”

“What’s strange is how many beginning writers seem to think that grammar is irrelevant, or that they are somehow above or beyond this subject more fit for a schoolchild than the future author of great literature.”

“the truth is that grammar is always interesting, always useful. Mastering the logic of grammar contributes, in a mysterious way that again evokes some process of osmosis, to the logic of thought.”

“All the elements of good writing depend on the writer’s skill in choosing one word instead of another. And what grabs and keeps our interest has everything to do with those choices.”


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About the author

Francine Prose is an American writer of novels, non-fiction books, and short story collections. She is the author of twenty works of fiction. Her novel A Changed Man won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and Blue Angel was a finalist for the National Book Award.

Her works of nonfiction include the highly acclaimed Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, and the New York Times bestseller Reading Like a Writer. The recipient of numerous grants and honors, including a Guggenheim and a Fulbright, a Director's Fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, Prose is a former president of PEN American Center, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.