Abraham Lincoln and the 3 Rs

Abraham Lincoln and the Three Rs

Reading, Writing, and…Remedy

By Steve Hooley

Today is Lincoln’s birthday. He was born on 2/12/1809, 213 years ago. Ten score and thirteen years ago.

“Writing—the art of communicating thoughts to the mind, through the eye—is the great invention of the world.” (Abraham Lincoln)

Lincoln is known for his voracious reading, his tenacious will to learn and overcome his single year of formal education, and his eloquent prose, both written and spoken. I thought that in honor of our 16th president and his 213th birthday, it would be a good day to be inspired by his reading and writing remedy plan.

Below are some of the key paragraphs in an article in Harvard University Press, 2/12/2019 on Lincoln and his reading and writing habits, and in review of The Annotated Lincoln by Harold Holzer and Thomas A. Horrocks.

  1. Know your weakness and commit to rigorous self-education.

“That Lincoln would come to be celebrated after his death as one of this nation’s greatest writers would have surprised and perhaps shocked some of the well-educated contemporaries who saw the living Lincoln as a man lacking the accoutrements of refinement, as nothing more than a country bumpkin who spoke like a hayseed and wrote like a yokel completely ignorant of the fundamentals of grammar. Lincoln, of course, was always aware of those who underestimated his intelligence and talents. As a young man, painfully conscious of his intellectual deficiencies, Lincoln committed himself to a rigorous course of self-education, so that by the time he reached middle age he possessed a steely inner confidence in his ability to hold his own intellectually with his more refined and better-educated peers.”

       2. Prepare for prolonged, persistent study and practice.

“Lincoln’s ability to write the eloquent prose for which he became famous developed over time, gradually enhanced through strenuous practice and constantly reinforced through his active reading habits. After Lincoln’s death, his stepmother recalled Lincoln’s fascination with words and their meaning when he was young: ‘Abe read all the books he could lay his hands on — and when he came across a passage that struck him he would write it down on boards if he had no paper & keep it there till he did get paper — then he would re-write it — look at it repeat it — He had a copy book — a kind of scrap book in which he would put down all things and this preserved them.’”

  1. Reap the rewards of self-study.

“Lincoln’s writing skills in his mature years were primarily influenced by his youthful reading habits. His early reading tended to be intensive rather than extensive. Since books were scarce on the frontier, he would have read a few books more than once, memorizing much of what he read.”

  1. Practice, practice, and practice.

“Lincoln spoke not only from conviction but also from personal experience. In regard to writing — even writing about writing — Lincoln stands as one of its most inspired practitioners. From his earliest scribblings as a teenager to his final memoranda on the day he went to Ford’s Theatre, Abraham Lincoln may have spent more time writing — most of it wisely and memorably — than performing any other task.”

  1. Success and eloquence.

“No American president before or since has faced the problems that confronted Abraham Lincoln when he took office in 1861. Nor has any president expressed himself with such eloquence on issues of great moment. Lincoln’s writings reveal the depth of his thought and feeling and the sincerity of his convictions as he weighed the cost of freedom and preserving the Union.”

 In summary, Abraham Lincoln is an inspiration to us as both readers and writers. His desire to learn, his willingness to overcome adversity, his determination to practice and improve himself, should inspire us to never stop reading and learning, and to never stop writing and practicing.

Addendum: When I began writing this post, I set out to review Lincoln’s reading habits. What I came away with was a new-found respect for someone with a humble beginning who, through self-study and diligence, achieved success that blessed an entire country. The information created the shape of the post.

If this self-study program sounds vaguely familiar, check last Sunday’s post, and go back and reread the second section (Self-study) of Chapter 5 (Keys to a Winning System) of How to Make a Living as a Writer, James Scott Bell.


Okay, TKZ community, it’s your turn.

  1. What writer(s) has (have) most inspired you to read/learn/write?
  2. How do you divide your time between reading nonfiction and fiction?
  3. What one area of writing do you intend to focus on and study in 2022?
This entry was posted in reading, self-study, Writing by Steve Hooley. Bookmark the permalink.

About Steve Hooley

Steve Hooley is the author of seven short stories published in four anthologies, a Vella serial fiction, and is currently working on the Mad River Magic series – a fantasy adventure series for advanced middle-grade to adults. More details available at: https://stevehooleywriter.com/mad-river-magic/

46 thoughts on “Abraham Lincoln and the 3 Rs

  1. Good morning, Steve. Thanks so much for today’s post. I was thinking of Lincoln’s Birthday last night, remembering a time when Lincoln’s Birthday was celebrated as a holiday in almost half of the states. Now it seems to be almost forgotten.

    Those paragraphs you shared with us apply to just about any effort of endeavor including writing. Sometimes we forget about other areas of our lives that need improvement. Everything, in the end, is a work in progress.

    Answering your questions:

    1) James Lee Burke and Elmore Leonard. Hands down.

    2) 20% non-fiction, 80% fiction, though I see a point where that may gradually change to 50-50.

    3) Number Four on your list, that being practice, practice and practice.

    Thanks again, Jim, for everything. Have a great weekend.

    • Good morning, Joe.
      Wise answers. It is sad how quickly we forget to honor great leaders from the past, and how we fail to learn from their wisdom.
      Thanks for your answers to the questions. I’m watching the answers to question #1, and making a list for future study. James Lee Burke and Elmore Leonard will be at the top of my list.
      Have a great weekend!

  2. “…to learn and overcome his single year of formal education” – I did not realize this. Truly incredible.

    Regards my writing – I share your and Joe Hartlaub’s appreciation of James Lee Burke’s incredible gifts. JLB and many others demonstrate brilliant writing that I learn from.
    Initial inspiration as a child came significantly from the author Jim Kjelgaard (any familiar?). He wrote of dogs, wild country, and adventure with engaging protagonists who drew me into the story. The magic of becoming fully immersed and emotionally engaged in story as a reader triggered the desire and question as to whether I could create an experience like that for others.
    Excellent post, Steve!

    • Thanks, Tom, and thanks for stopping by.

      I was not familiar with Kjelgaard, but I checked his books on Amazon. I definitely want to read some of those. I grew up reading the Hardy Boys, then reading Outdoor Life magazine for the wildlife adventures. Thanks for the introduction!

      I hope all is well with you. Have a great weekend!

    • Oh wow. Somehow I thought I was the only person so enthralled by Kjelgaard’s books. I read every book of his in all the libraries of all the places I lived since I was about 10. Most of them several times. Thanks for the memories!

  3. Like Joe, I remember getting two days off in February – Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays… both sadly rolled into the non-celebratory “Presidents’ Day” three-day weekend (that, it seems, is only taken by government agencies…) Ah, but those cardboard cut-outs and all the red-white-and-blueness of it all (mixed with some Valentine’s hues as well…)

    But I digress in my rabbit-trailing…

    To your questions:
    1. I go way back to John D. MacDonald – an original inspiration – and ongoing “educator” – and to Michael Connelly for “modern day” motivation… (and there’s a little Richard Brautigan there who showed me even I could write…)

    2. About 50-50 – though the history-as-novel is a hard call… I greatly enjoy the late Winston Groom’s triad biographies, as well as Eric Larson’s revealing histories of things we thought we already knew…

    3. And once again referring/deferring to Mr. H – practice, Practice, PRACTICE…

    • Thanks, George. We’ll celebrate Lincoln’s birthday today, here at TKZ.

      I’m with you on J D MacDonald and Michael Connelly. I hadn’t heard of Richard Brautigan. (I’m having fun keeping Amazon open, while I read these comments.) We should have talked about Brautigan on National Hat Day. Love the title, “Loading Mercury with a Pitch Fork.” Sounds like some interesting reading.

      Thanks for your contributions, George. Have a great weekend!

    • Happy to see mention of Richard Brautigan, who exploded my mind in high school and inspired me to write wild. But then it was my beloved English teacher, Mrs. Bruce, who saw some of this stuff, and taught me there’s also a little thing called craft to consider, too. It was the perfect meeting of the right and left hemispheres of the brain.

  4. As a late-in-life writer, I can’t pinpoint a single author. I fell into writing by mistake, but once I thought I’d enjoy the pursuit, I glommed onto anything available. Barbara Parker and the PJ Parrish team offered encouragement at conferences. Suzanne Brockmann’s voice resonated. Linda Castillo showed me the ‘rules’ weren’t really rules. If I look at my current ‘auto buy’ authors, it’s Robert Crais, John Sandford, Michael Connelly and JD Robb.
    Non fiction: ~1%; Fiction 99%
    For this year, I plan to keep writing. I need to get better at chasing the muse, not waiting around.

    • Thanks, Terry. I can identify with your “late-in-life” comments. I wasted too much reading time in early adulthood reading no fiction. There was a time when I was subscribed to every woodworking magazine available. So this post is part of my remedial plan. I’m learning from all of you. And I added your recommendations to my list.

      Thanks for all the great posts and teaching you do here at TKZ. Have a great weekend!

      • I loved woodworking! I once cut a chess set on a RAS, starting with closet rod, while standing on a bowling ball. Used to carve little Celtic knot plaques, too. Puzzles, beds, bookcases, computer desk, etc. Wood is great stuff.

    • Speaking of late in life: My first sale didn’t happen until 1981, when “Beware the Wrath of Abibarshim” was published. My grandfather was almost ten years old when Lincoln was shot.

  5. Wow. Such a moving and poignant post, Steve. I didn’t realize Lincoln only had a single year of eduction. He’s such an inspiration, proving once again formal education doesn’t equal intelligence.

    My reading consists of about 50/50 between nonfiction and fiction. As for authors who first made me want to write professionally, Katia Lief, (old) Patterson, Thomas Harris, Iris & Roy Johansen, and Ann Rule, to name a few.

    • Thanks, Sue. Before I started looking for information on Lincoln’s reading, I knew that he had read everything he could find. I remember one story of him measuring the library shelves, and calculating how many inches of books (thickness) he would need to read per week to read the whole library in ? time. I couldn’t find that one. Maybe I didn’t look hard enough. Maybe that was just a story.

      Thanks for adding to the list of authors that provided inspiration. Some of those names are new to me. I intend to explore.

      Have a great weekend!

  6. Thanks for the mention, Steve, and a nice tribute to America’s most famous autodidact. His reading habits are instructive for us. He read to learn—law, history—but also carved out time for enjoyment. From James Ford Rhodes’s History of the Civil War: During his term of office he confined his reading of books mainly to military treatises and to works which guided him in the solution of questions of constitutional and international law, although he occasionally snatched an hour to devote to his beloved Shakespeare and revealed in his state papers an undiminished knowledge of the Bible.

    It was Ray Bradbury, esp. The Illustrated Man, who filled me with the romance of writing stories that capture you and take you away. Before that, The Hardy Boys got me into mysteries.

    I tend to read more nonfiction these days, mainly to expand my knowledge base. When I read fiction I find myself drawn to older works and authors. I don’t need f and s bombs.

    • Thanks, Jim, for the additional information about Lincoln’s reading.

      After your comments in response to George Smith, about Richard Brautigan, now I know I want to explore some of his books. The more it’s the forbidden fruit, the more appealing it looks. I hope it won’t get me kicked out of the garden.

      Jim, the first writing craft book I ever read was Plot and Structure . I still remember pulling that book off a tall stack of TBR books at my bedside, and reading about “the big lie.” I was already getting the urge to write. That book set the hook.

      Thanks for all your wonderful teaching and inspiration here at TKZ. Have a great weekend, but Go Bengals.

      • I forgive you (begrudgingly) the Bengals crack.

        Brautigan was a hippie poet. Which meant he wrote things that could easily have come out of a, ahem, fog. I mean, what can you say about a guy who writes a book called Trout Fishing in America which is not at all about trout fishing in America, but is in fact the name of a character? Yes, a character named: Trout Fishing in America.

  7. Terrific post, Steve. This is a great framework for an education in any field of endeavor, especially writing. To answer your questions:

    1. Many writers have inspired me, but I’d say, at least this morning, that Lawrence Block and Nancy Kress both inspired me to read/learn/write because they both embody the ideal of that approach, “the Path of Craft,” I call it. Both wrote long running columns for Writers Digest on fiction writing craft.
    2. It varies—currently, probably 20% non fiction and 80% fiction.
    3. Getting better at writing mysteries, better at creating compelling characters, improving my sentence level craft, including dialogue. This should keep me out of trouble for the moment.

    Have a great weekend and thanks for another inspiring and instructive post!

    • Thanks, Dale. I, too, have learned much from Nancy Kress. I need to read more of Lawrence Block. I have his Plot, Print, Pixel craft book sitting on my TBR stack. Oh, for more reading time.

      I liked your comment that “This is a great framework for an education in any field of endeavor.” So often I hear people say, “Oh, just go over to YouTube,” for an instant answer. I still like the deep dive approach.

      Thanks for your contributions here at TKZ. Have a great weekend!

  8. Steve, thanks for the quick bio of Lincoln. He remains an inspiration long after his death. That’s a great legacy.

    You ask tough questions! I can never pin down the writers who inspire me b/c there are too many.

    Mostly reading nonfiction to research articles I write. Fiction is a guilty pleasure.

    Focus and study: I’ve badly neglected marketing my books. Struggling to do more of that which requires learning how to use programs like MailChimp and BookFunnel. Aargh!

    • Thanks, Debbie. Your comment about Lincoln’s legacy made me realize that maybe Lincoln resonates with us, because so many of us have come from nonwriting backgrounds, and we feel like we’re swimming upstream to catch up with everyone else.

      And I’m with you on learning more about marketing. It would be nice if it weren’t such a moving target. It certainly is helpful when a small group can work together.

      Have a great weekend! I hope you find some reading time for fiction.

  9. Margaret Mitchell – Gone With the Wind was my beach book when I was thirteen. That was the first time I said “I can do that” (except for my written and illustrated The Horse Who Went to Heaven) when I was in first grade.

    Mark Twain.

    Later on it was Mary Stewart, particularly Airs Above the Ground, which I still love.

    Always and forever Erma Bombeck (I used to write editorials for the paper).

    Now it’s Lee Child, Michael Connelly, James Patterson, though I don’t write like any of them.

    • Thanks for your comments, Cynthia. That’s quite a list.

      I like your “That was the first time I said ‘I can do that'” comment. To think back to when we first got the bug to write, then have the confidence that we could learn to do it, that’s great fun, remembering, and being re-inspired.

      I believe you write play scripts, too. Is that right? What play first inspired you to write play scripts?

  10. I do write screenplays but I was told recently by someone who read Family that it would work well as a stage play so I may try it.

    Oddly enough, even though I’ve been doing theatre as an actor for most of my life, I’ve only tried to write a play once and it ended up turning into a novel.

    • Sorry, Cynthia, I thought you wrote stage plays. Interesting how your stage play turned into a novel. I guess we all have a certain type of writing we most enjoy, and that is good.

      Good luck with Family.

      Have a great weekend!

  11. Great tribute to a great human being, Steve. A true statesman if there ever was one. Hmmm…
    1. Joseph Wambaugh and Stephen King.
    2. 80% non-fiction. 20% fiction which includes the news.
    3. Screenwriting.

    • Good afternoon (or good morning), Garry. You had me laughing with answer #2. I’ll stay our of the politics, but I agree with you.

      Thanks for adding two great names to the writers who have inspired us. I need to explore Wambaugh’s books. Putting his name on my list.

      Good luck with the preparation and writing of your screenwriting project. I hope the experience gives you some perspective you can share with us one of these days.

      Have a great weekend!

  12. I wrote poetry for many years, so poets were my initial inspiration and I read my favorite poems over and over. Edgar Allan Poe was the first to motivate me. In high school, my favorites were T.S. Eliot and Hermann Hesse, which I read in German class. In college, I was smitten by Baudelaire (The Flowers of Evil). In the 70s, I studied Ann Sexton’s poetry, especially her book The Awful Rowing Toward God

    As I write this, I see a pattern, I was attracted to talented writers who produced depressing work. Maybe that led me to eventually take up writing about crime and murder.

    • Thanks for your comments, Sue Ann. I liked how your review of your favorite or inspirational poets caused you to see a pattern and led to the genre you write. That would be an interesting exploration for all of us to take in our reading and writing.

      And speaking of poetic, but depressing, I’m currently reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it all the way through the book. I like some hope in what I’m reading.

      Thanks for your participation here at TKZ. Have a great weekend!

  13. Great post and this is yet another reason Lincoln is so respected. BTW, I also read today that President Lincoln is in the Wrestling Hall of Fame https://nwhof.org/hall_of_fame/bio/128

    1) I try to learn something from every author I read.
    2) Read about 90% nonfiction, 10% fiction.
    3) 2022 has had a tumultuous start so I don’t have anything specific targeted. Whatever area of writing I study will be of benefit.

    • Thanks, BK, and thanks for that bit of trivia about the Wrestling Hall of Fame. I had no idea. I do remember reading somewhere (I don’t know if it was true) that Lincoln rigged a harness that distributed weight to all parts of his body, and lifted and carried 1000 pounds.

      Thanks for stopping by. Have a great weekend!

  14. My earliest inspiration was A E VanVogt. Then L Sprague De Camp’s Science Fiction Handbook. I met Bradbury several times. My mentor, Edith Battles, was his driver for his annual visits to Southwest Manuscripters. Another teacher, Geri Howard, gets special mention.

    My reading lately is sparse, ~20% fiction. Much of the other 80% is on-line.

    I studied psychology to analyze Hitler for In the Mouth of the Lion, and most of my writing is now in that field. My monographs on ResearchGate have had a total of 2,200 reads, so far. I’m looking for a PhD co-author in order to publish my Guardienne Hypothesis.

    • Thanks, JG, for all your contributions and comments here at TKZ. A fellow woodworker is always welcome. That must have been some chess set. And I agree, better late than never. Good luck with your search for a PhD co-author.

      Have a great weekend!

  15. Wonderful post, Steve. I remember when we celebrated Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays. There used to be a train that ran the Savannah – Atlanta line called the “Nancy Hanks.” I rode on that train as a child. (Trust me, it’s related. You may have to look it up.)

    I’m afraid I’ll make this comment much too long if I name everyone who has inspired or helped me, so I’ll just name a few. Carl Sandburg’s “Abraham Lincoln: the Prairie Years,” Lincoln himself, Beryl Markham, Harry Kemelman, the Nancy Drew mysteries, Harper Lee, Jane Austen, Betty Smith, and Isak Dinesen are a few. Here at TKZ, James Scott Bell’s “Plot and Structure” was hugely influential on my first novel and his other works have inspired me to keep learning and growing. Jodie Renner’s books have also helped me hone the craft. Personally, Debbie Burke and Steve Hooley have encouraged and helped me. I’ll stop now, realizing I’ve left lots of people off this list.

    I read more fiction than non-fiction, maybe 70% to 30%.

    I’ve been late to the starting line this year because of other responsibilities, but I intend to focus on a few short stories, drafting the fourth book in the Watch series by setting it in another country, and taking a look at a middle grade novella.

    • Thanks, Kay.

      Wow, that’s a long list. There are some names there that I need to study. And there is a group called the Partners in Crime that has helped me and certainly made me stretch and grow.

      I look forward to finishing Dead Man’s Watch, and reading your fourth book when it is finished.

      Good luck with all your projects! Have a great weekend!

  16. I, too, can remember when we celebrated both Lincoln and Washington’s birthdays. Ken Follet’s Eye of the Needle started the itch that made me want to write. And John D. MacDonald…Leon Uris…Mary Stuart and many more…
    Craft–rereading Donald Maass’s The Emotional Craft of Fiction.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Patricia. Eye of the Needle was one of the first books that pulled me into the story so hard I didn’t want to put it down. And all of Maass’s craft books are worth studying.

      Thanks for all your comments and contributions here at TKZ. Your post on use of social media was really great.

      Have a great weekend!

  17. I think it was Marguerite Henry who first made me realize that books were written by someone (I was 7, I believe) and that I could write them, too. I’ve been inspired by nearly every book I could get my hands on growing up, from James Kjelgaard (mentioned above) in grade school libraries to James Blish’s Star Trek novelization in the high school library, to Leslie Charteris’s The Saint series, written in the 1930s, and republished in the 1980s and sold at the convenience store in our small town. Terry Pratchett came a few years later for me. In non-fiction, it was Colin Renfrew’s Archaeology and Language that actually taught me to think for myself.

    Oh. There were three questions? I think this comment is long enough. I’ll have to consider the others on my own.

    • Thanks, BJ, for your thoughts and your inspiration for writing. And they were better than answers to all three questions. You’re the third or fourth person who has mentioned Kjelgaard. Since I write fantasy adventures for teens, I’m definitely going to check out his books.

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comments.

      Have a great weekend!

  18. I’m always late to the dance.
    In reverse order.

    I’ll work hard on craft and discipline this year because I decided this was going to be my Creative Year. I need to learn the short story craft before I can get to the art.

    I read anything that catches my attention on my scribd screen or when I troll the library or Half Price Books. I particularly like short story anthologies in the Akashic Noir series and anything gathered together by the great Otto Penzler.

    The most impactful things I’ve read lately are Robert Gerwarth’s Hitler’s Hangman: The Life of Reinhard Heydrich and Burton Turkus and Sid Feder’s Murder, Inc.

    As far as a writer who has inspired me most in the craft department, a tip of the hat to JSB and How To Write Pulp Fiction and Edwin Silberstang’s The Fiction Writer’s Guidebook. I admire the work of Edna Buchanan and Sid Feder, not to mention Ernie Pyle.

    • Thanks, Robert, for stopping by. You’re never late. We keep the lights on (even though I did a little sleeping between now and then.)

      I like that you have a name for the coming year and your goals.

      Thanks for listing the writers who have been an inspiration for you. I’ve added some new names (new for me) to my list.

      May your creativity soar this year! And have a great weekend!

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