Literary Excellence and Why Writers Need to Be Readers

by | Oct 11, 2021 | Articles | 1 comment

Back when I first launched my company, I often used the phrase literary excellence as part of my branding. The idea was that Sahno Publishing evolved out of the notion that literary excellence is more important than a financial formula.

The company entered the publishing world with the guiding principle that books should always find an audience, especially if written well.

Naturally, I hope readers think of my own novels that way, but where does it all come from? For my fellow writers, I think the answer is obvious: you have to read widely before you can write well.

It’s been said by many writers for many years. Emerson wrote, “If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.” And when it comes to what writers themselves say, there’s no shortage of great ones exhorting their readers to read even more.

“The more you read, the more you will write. The better the stuff you read, the better the stuff you will write.” – Annie Dillard

“You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so… If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” – Stephen King

“By reading the writings of the most interesting minds in history, we meditate with our own minds and theirs as well.” – Kurt Vonnegut

 

Great Writers Are Great Readers

So what does all that have to do with me or this blog?

Well, I think it’s important for all my fellow writers to get the message any way they can. I love to read, and I love to read the classics. As an undergrad, I was required to take three hours of grad-level literature classes. I took eighteen. At one point, I had to read a Shakespeare play and two major classic novels every week for an entire semester.

In grad school, I continued that kind of pace. I took a seminar in Dickens, which required reading a novel a week, at the same time I had two other grad level classes.

I’m not saying it’s necessary that every writer obtain a formal education in literature; it’s not even necessarily important that they read every great book in the canon in order to create their own great books. But it can’t hurt, and can only help.

After grad school, I certainly didn’t think I was anywhere near finished. I realized that even my Master’s in English hadn’t filled some gaps in my reading experience, particularly continental fiction. So I delved into Balzac, Camus, Mann, Umberto Eco, and many others. Lately I’ve been reading some of the Dreiser novels I didn’t get to in college.

This is the writer’s life. It’s the life of a reader. It means reading widely, reading every great writer you can, until you have absorbed them all and developed your own voice. You won’t be imitating any of them, but some will have influenced you. And that’s all to the good.

twitter

Best Accounts to Follow on Twitter

Recently I wrote a blog post about how many writers struggle to find interesting topics. It occurred to me that, for those of us who are writers and/or entrepreneurs, one good topic for this blog might be Best Accounts to Follow on Twitter. Of course, this is totally...

“Narratives of Transcendent Origin and Power”

Somewhere around a million years ago, I received a gift from a fellow writer, a book called Walking on Alligators by Susan Shaughnessy. I wasn't familiar with Ms. Shaughnessy, but the book is subtitled A Book of Meditations for Writers, and it has a format similar to...
IngramSpark KDP

Using IngramSpark and KDP Print For Your Paperbacks

This week's post is about using two different companies for Print-On-Demand publishing—IngramSpark and KDP. Ever since Amazon began offering services to authors, there's been a question in the indie author community: should I use them? My answer, initially, was a...
break

Taking The Time to Tell You I’m Taking Some Time

Some writers plan out all their blog posts well in advance, creating a schedule of topics. The calendar might include a month’s worth or more of diverse subjects with which they can engage, inform, and entertain subscribers.  And then there’s me. I’m only...
post

Why Subscribe To A Blog?

If you’ve been following me for awhile, you probably know I post something new on my blog most Mondays. Or maybe you don’t know that at all. I’ll admit, I’m not exactly the greatest promoter of my own blog. When it comes to social media platforms like Twitter, I'm...
guilt

The Problem With Guilt-Inducing Advice

I frequently see tweets asking, “What’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever heard?” I don’t know if I want to comment on that, exactly, but I do have something else in mind. Probably the biggest cliché writers will ever hear is some variation on the old saw, Write...
Biden

If There Ever Was a Time to be Apolitical, This Isn’t It

Anyone who has read a handful of my blog posts, or better yet, my fiction, probably has a pretty good handle on where I stand politically. I’ve been known to rail against the orange monster in the Oval Office from time to time. In fact, I wrote back in 1994 that...
reaper

COVID-19: The Reaper that Keeps on Reaping

Last week I wrote about the trials and tribulations of my immediate family. I’d love to brag about how much better things are this week, but…eh…not so much. While we were contending with my mother going from a hospital to a skilled nursing facility, we had some more...
catholic school

I Survived Catholic School

This post isn’t meant to be provocative, though I understand my readers who also happen to be good Catholics might see it that way. No, it’s something else altogether.Years ago, it wasn’t unusual to hear someone talking about how the nuns hit their knuckles with...

Strictly Commercial In SE Asia

Three weeks is not a normal lapse of time between blog posts for me. I try to blog at least once a week, anyway, but from November 9th through November 23rd, I was on my first real vacation since 2015. The destination: my wife's native Thailand. This was my fifth trip...
self-promotion

What’s The Problem With Shameless Self-Promotion?

While I still find it somewhat hard to believe, I've been on Twitter for almost eight years. I know this not only because Twitter shows Joined March 2015 on my profile but also because, even if they eliminate that feature, I use a tracker called Who Unfollowed Me? If...
MLK

MLK Day 2023

Here’s wishing everyone a safe, sane Martin Luther King Jr. Day. For many of us, today is always something of a day of mourning: not only mourning the loss of a great civil rights leader, but also mourning the turn our great nation seemed to take in recent years....

Twitter Tips for Authors in 2023

If you follow my blog, you probably connected with me via Twitter, whether you’re a fellow author or not. In 2020, I wrote a post about Twitter for fellow writers that got a good response. Three years later, the landscape has changed, but some Twitter best practices...
rails

Going Off The Rails (But Not On A Crazy Train)

Last April, I wrote a blog post called Back on Track With a Work-In-Progress. Part of that post was to talk about the difference between a “plotter” and a “pantser” (and to describe myself as a hybrid of the two, a “plantser”). Another, less obvious motive, was to...
French

Those Tricky French Authors and Their Obsessions

Today’s blog post was originally going to be Write Whatever the @#$% You Want, Pt. III. However, after seeing parts I and II lined up, I decided to call an audible and make it something less repetitive. Somehow the SEO gods have gotten into my head. As I’ve mentioned...
scared

Write Whatever the @#$% You Want, Pt. II

In last week’s post, I mentioned a pretty well-known author who has publicly reported his publisher “wouldn’t touch” a new release, in part because a character in his novel referred to herself as “fat.” I heard this story on a podcast, and I remember thinking, “Wait...
censorship

Write Whatever the @#$% You Want

I’ve been stewing on this for a while. It’s been brewing for quite a while. I could probably write a song about it (how about a rap?), but I don’t think I will. This is more of a blog post topic, and it might even deserve a series. And that’s the title and topic of...
gratitude

Should Every Month Be Gratitude Month?

When I was a kid, I loved Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz. I read it daily and collected nearly every paperback volume of the cartoon, so I could see what I’d missed since the comic strip’s inception in 1950.  Certain things stuck: quotes like “happiness is a warm puppy”...
robot

More Thoughts On Robot Writers and The Tech Dystopia

A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog post here called When Will the Robot Overlords Replace Us? Apparently, I’m fairly obsessed with this stuff, because every time I come here and empty my brain, it seems to come up again. Today is no different. Part of the reason,...