Things every writer should read

“The blank page is God’s way of letting us know how hard it is to be God.” ~ G. K. Chesterton

I found this quote today and it came at singularly good timing, as I’ve been learning from experience just how hard sub-creation can be. This week I’ve been struggling with writer’s block, a rather bad case, which is only made worse by the fact that most of my school revolves around writing. Unlike most of the times I find myself stuck, this time I actually know the cause — and that doesn’t seem to be helping. But it’s too early to talk about it yet. Maybe when it’s over, if I find anything in it to help anyone else.

Since I don’t have ideas for things of my own to write, I’ll recommend things I know are of a quality I can depend on.

In conversation I will think of things every writer should read, and then forget about them later. Because, whatever else it is, “reliable” does not describe my memory very well. (And by “very well” I mean “at all, except possibly on its good days, which are so rare as to be practically miracles”.) But here are the three things I can remember, which means they must be the most important, right? “If it’s important,” they say, “you wouldn’t have forgotten it.” Wrong. If it is important, you will forget it. You’ll remember where you put a certain spatula that you almost never use, but when it comes to the car keys or fire extinguisher, or your own name (I plead guilty), it’ll be gone out your head in an instant.

First, Mythopoeia. Also known as Philomythus to Misomythus. And, of course, by none other than Tolkien. It’s long and every word is worth it. Maybe someday when I can again, I will write on how an evolutionary worldview is not compatible with Man’s urge to create.

Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker: This book is not exactly light reading, especially considering that the argument of the book has a lot to do with the doctrine of the Trinity, but it’s really good. I discovered it when we were staying overnight at some friends’ house before flying to the other side of the continent the next morning, and ended up borrowing it for the trip. It’s been a while since I read it, and the one time I tried to explain it I ended up failing to properly represent both the book and the Trinity, so I won’t try again here, but it is something every writer ought to read.

Sword Blades And Poppy Seed, by Amy Lowell. This last is unusual in that of these three it is the only one not written by a Christian, but I don’t consider that much of a hindrance if you judge the poem on its own merits. It does miss the final cause of writing, and lets writing itself be the chief end of the writer, but on everything else it explains, not through essay or lecture, but through the very art it’s about — well, I’ve lost words again. Go read it, and I think you’ll understand.

For a post I started a little more than nine hours ago, it does actually say something.

Nota bene: the time zone on WordPress is messed up. I did not actually publish this on Sunday. I don’t write blog posts on Sundays. According to the time zone I live in, it’s still Saturday evening. (The sun has gone down, so we could discuss whether that counts.)


About Nolie Alcarturiel

Creative Writing major and Philosophy minor, contemplating a Master's degree in Medieval History. I enjoy practically anything to do with medieval history, including the domestic arts, with an especial emphasis on the Anglo-Saxon Era. In my spare time I read endlessly, do medieval living-history, hold philosophical debates at the drop of a hat, and write books on even slighter provocation.
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3 Responses to Things every writer should read

  1. thegermangolux says:

    While, ideally, every person should read the Bible as the Word of God, and come to an understanding of our relation to God by doing so, every writer would do well, I think, to read it as a piece of literature. As hard as I try, I don’t think I will ever find a book that encompasses history, fiction, and poetry with the same harmony and depth. It is without question a thoroughly beautiful book. Since its primary place is as the Word of God, I know I at least tend to forget how good it is as a monument to beauty – or rather, a monument to God’s beauty.

    Can it be possible that you have made a blog post recommending books, without including Chesterton?


    • noliealcarturiel says:

      I could have recommended lots of Chesterton, but I don’t know that I would say “You have to read him; the reason for this is that you are a writer”. It would be more like “You have to read him, the reason being that you are a human”. But I wasn’t writing a post for things humans in general ought to read.
      I’ve probably said this before, but I would love a class on non-fiction with Exodus for the textbook. Pastor’s pointed out some of the literary genius in it, but not nearly all of it.


      • thegermangolux says:

        In Pastor’s defense, we’re only three chapters in.

        Writers ought to have a healthy sense of paradox, which Chesterton cultivates. I suppose really anybody needs paradoxes in their life, though. Nonsense is important too, which requires a course of reading Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, Mother Goose, and sundry other masters of nonsense.


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