11/18 Intro to Reading Like a Writer

Today we talked about Dean Bakopoulos’s essay “Straight Through The Heart” as well as the first chapter from Francine Prose’s book Reading Like a Writer.

Between the two classes, we had a great discussion. Here’s what we came up with in terms of what these two writers recommend:

  • Love – both writers seem to suggest that reading like a writer requires us to engage with books and stories and poems as if they are things to love and appreciate. Bakopoulos suggests we need a “firsthand, visceral relationship” with a book.
  • Bakopoulos advises us to identify “green lines,” that is “to isolate writing so good it makes one writer envious of another,” to identify which parts we wish we had written ourselves. Once we find those lines, we ask ourselves
    • Why’d you like it?
    • What changed that brought energy to the text?
  • Prose talks about reading like a writer meaning that we are reading for pleasure, for inspiration, for admiration–reading and reading and reading and not stopping.
  • Prose describes reading for words feeling limiting at first, but then the closer the reading, the more vibrant the patterns were that emerged (instead of reading FOR a pattern and using the words to support that reading).
  • Prose also advises we read word-by-word and sentence-by-sentence. As we do, we consider the writer’s decisions–all of the myriad of their decisions. Why THIS word and THIS phrase? What does THIS sentence do that another sentence wouldn’t? (etc).

Prose goes on to explain:

I organized class around this more pedestrian, halting method of beginning at the beginning, lingering over every word, every phrase, every image, considering how it enhanced and contributed to the story as a whole. In this way, the students and I would get through as much of the text as possible–sometimes three or four, sometimes as many as ten pages–in a two hour class.

We don’t get to always read like a writer–at least not to that degree (except in poetry, where the texts are short and our time long). But we’re going to do the best we can looking at those writerly decisions and green lines in the rest of our time together.