On Writing: Lessons from Dorothy Sayers

Thursday, April 27, 2017

March 13, 2017

"Lord, teach us to take our hearts and look them in the face, however difficult it may be." 
- Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night

It hit me that that is the task of writers - to look at and express their hearts and the hearts of others - that is what makes for good writing. That's also what makes it scary and difficult. But, the likes of L'Engle and White and Dahl and Fitzgerald and Berry and Sayers...They all GOT that and doing it, they have found themselves spanning decades and generation after generation. For as much as they deceive us, human hearts are what we know and they do not change much, regardless of the culture they live in.

The scene that came before that prayer was a conversation between Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane about a book she is writing and how she needs help to get the plot moving again.

It went like this,

"You would have to abandon the jig-saw kind of story and write a book about human beings for a change."

"I'm afraid to try that, Peter. It might go too near the bone."

"It might be the wisest thing you could do."

"Write it out and get rid of it?"


"I'll think about that. It would hurt like hell."

"What would that matter, if it made a good book?"..."You haven't yet," he went on, "written the book you could if you tried. Probably you couldn't write it when you were too close to things. But you could do it now, if you had the - the -"

"The Guts?"


"I don't think I could face it."

"Yes, you could. And you'll get no peace till you do. You've been running away from yourself for 20 years, and it doesn't work..."

And that lays it out perfectly. That's what writing is. Learning from your mistakes, writing the human heart - even your own. It hurts, but people relate and when they relate, the book is exceptionally good.

Taken from an entry 
in my journal dated
January 11, 2016. 

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