I’m half through Stanley Fish’s How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One and I’m having trouble liking it. This eloquent critique by Joseph Epstein expresses my feelings perfectly.
Learning to write sound, interesting, sometimes elegant prose is the work of a lifetime. The only way I know to do it is to read a vast deal of the best writing available, prose and poetry, with keen attention, and find a way to make use of this reading in one’s own writing. The first step is to become a slow reader. No good writer is a fast reader, at least not of work with the standing of literature. Writers perforce read differently from everyone else. Most people ask three questions of what they read: (1) What is being said? (2) Does it interest me? (3) Is it well constructed? Writers also ask these questions, but two others along with them: (4) How did the author achieve the effects he has? And (5) What can I steal, properly camouflaged of course, from the best of what I am reading for my own writing? This can slow things down a good bit.
Don’t miss the ending. I’m not overstating when I say that Epstein … earns a victory lap? … sticks the landing? … drives it out of the park? …
Damnit, I need to write more.
An alternative book that I enjoyed skimming was Arthur Plotnik’s Spunk and Bite, which strongly encourages reading the best contemporary writers and cherry-picking the elements of prose and poetry that might make your writing a little more lively.