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.

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