The Best Writing Class in the World!

Reading Like a Writer


The Best Writing Class in the World!


I am aware that there are many worthy writing classes out there, not the least of which are the MFA programs at esteemed universities around the globe. I can think of several programs in Canada that are outstanding right here in Canada, like the Banff Centre for the Arts (Writing in the mountains? Yes, please.) And yes, structured classes and deadlined work definitely have merit. But there is a school of writing I’ve stumbled upon that is self-paced, rigorous, comprehensive and- with a library card (shameless plug) absolutely free.


Of course, I am talking about reading. But, to be clear, you’re not going to get off easy. This isn’t casual, bystander kind of reading, or reading for entertainment, or reading to fall asleep or even to pass time in a line. This is active, engaged reading. This is reading like a writer.


The great Francine Prose, in a book with the revealing name “Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them,” lays out the basics. By all means, READ THIS BOOK! It would be the best thing you could do to prepare for a self-directed reading course. Think of it as the manifesto, the mandate, and the mission statement for the course.  


From the first chapter:


“Like most- maybe all- writers, I learned to write by writing and, by example, by reading books.

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. They studied meter with Ovid, plot construction with Homer, comedy with Aristophanes; they honed their prose style by absorbing the lucid sentences of Montaigne and Samuel Jackson.”


Not that you have to stick to those examples. I would instead suggest Walt Whitman for meter, plot construction with Margaret Atwood, comedy with David Sedaris and prose through Lydia Davis. But, it’s all relative.


The point here is to study the works and words that sing to you. Or as Prose says:


 “I read for pleasure, first, but also more analytically, conscious of style, of diction, of how sentences were formed and information was being conveyed, how the writer was structuring a plot, creating characters, employing detail and dialogue. And as I wrote, I discovered that writing, like reading, was done one word at a time, one punctuation mark at a time. It required what a friend calls “putting every word on trial for its life”: changing an adjective, cutting a phrase, removing a comma, and putting a comma back in.”



Turns out, you don’t need to wait for Stanford. All you need the will, a careful eye and a library card. Class is in session.