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I am interested in writing essays.

When I read Emerson's essays, I see that he has a unique style of writing. The quality of prose is consistently maintained across the essays. I write very pedestrian prose. Though I am able to convey ideas, the beauty of expression and the literary flourish is missing.

Questions

1) What is the best way to improve the quality of my prose?

2) If the answer to the above question is to read a lot of essays, how should I read them? Should I read actively, dissecting every sentence, and analysing it? Or should I just read and expect it do wonders to my writing?

  • Take a class or two. – user6035379 Jan 31 '17 at 12:34
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2) If the answer to the above question is to read a lot of essays, how should I read them? Should I read actively, dissecting every sentence, and analysing it? Or should I just read and expect it do wonders to my writing?

Both, I should say. First read just for your enjoyment. Afterwards analyse the whole and dissect a few sentences (every single one seems a bit excessive). Make sure to look for what you particularly enjoy in the essay.

Then read your own essays and identify what you like and dislike about them. See how they compare to the ones you enjoy: use of figures of speech, organisation of ideas, etc. Note that you shouldn't be trying to immitate the master, as you compare your work to his, but to see how both use the techniques above. It is important to you find your own voice and style, but that does not mean you cannot learn techniques from this process.

1) What is the best way to improve the quality of my prose?

Read and analyse what you've read. But mostly read. A lot.

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The answer is the same to all questions about improving your craft, and that is: Practice. Reading won't make you a good author, only writing will. What you should do is analyse and dissect your own mistakes and do better next time. So:

Write.

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    Disagree. Reading, particularly reading with attention, is key to becoming a good author. In every art form, the study of masters is considered key to the development of artistic ability. Writing is no different. Indeed, in writing it is probably more so than in the other arts, because there are no physical skills to learn in writing. Reading changes how you write. Writing changes how you read. See Francine Prose, Reading like a Writer. – Mark Baker Jan 31 '17 at 22:51
  • When studying the work of masters, is there a plan with which we should approach their works? – Karthik Thiagarajan Feb 1 '17 at 16:34
  • @KarthikThiagarajan Emerson wrote, as you say, in a unique style and is today considered a master, because he did not study other essayists but simply wrote down his own thoughts in the manner that they came to him. Reading will give you knowledge of the form you want to achieve, but only writing will give you the skill to achieve it. – user5645 Feb 1 '17 at 17:15
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My advice is to write often and read critically across genres. When I say critically, I mean that you should read to understand the author's syntax, tone, diction, use of figurative language...the list goes on.

But I like to believe that one's writing style is intrinsically unique, and so the purpose of this should be to allow your writing to become more nuanced, not to write exactly like them. Here is something for you to try. One exercise that can help embody the mind of another writer is to write on a topic in his or her style; emulate the style completely by copying the syntax and word choice precisely. Pick a piece that you're currently interested in, and use that piece as your source material. It will probably feel foreign to you, which is the point: while it'll help you to understand the writer that you're interested in, you won't magically begin to write like that author.

That being said, you should, through the process, see your own style come forth as you begin to modify the prose with your own flair, as will undoubtedly happen when you read something that feels forced and stilted. I'd call that your emerging style, and it will become crucial as you begin to write your own essays. You shouldn't want to be someone else, but by trying to, you might find what makes you "you" as you discover the aspects of their style you like and the aspects you dislike.

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