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The Habit Blog is the archive of The Habit Weekly. It is a trove of insight, wisdom, and practical advice on a variety of writing topics.

S2 Ep11: A 2008 Wingfeather Release Day Review (Bonus)

Going all the way back to 2008, here’s an episode of the old Rabbit Room Podcast in which Jonathan reads aloud his release day review of On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness—with an introduction by Andrew Peterson impersonating Alfred Hitchcock. Yeah, we never were sure exactly what that was about.

Nostrils and Fingers: Notes on Word Histories

The word “thrill,” when it came into the English language, originally meant “to pierce.” In The Faerie Queene, for instance, knights are always thrilling one another through with lances, swords, and other sharp instruments. In a joust or duel, you’d most certainly want to be the one who’s thrilling rather than the one who’s being thrilled. It also meant “hole”—that is, a place where someone or something has been thrilled. The astute reader may already have noticed a connection with the word “drill.” 

Our current use of the words “thrill” and “thrilling” is a figurative extension of the original: when you are thrilling, you feel as if you have been  pierced through with joy or excitement. “Thrill” is one of those words for which a figurative use took over so completely that we hardly ever think about the original, literal meaning. Two other examples of this phenomenon are ardentand flagrant, both of which used to mean literally “burning” or “on fire”—as in, “Call the fire department! My house is flagrant!”

Anyway…at the end of Book I of The Faerie Queene, the Redcrosse Knight gets mixed up with a dragon of whom it is said, “flames of fire he threw forth from his large nosethrill.” And now you know where the word “nostril” comes from. Your nostrils are the places where holes appear to have been drilled in your nose.

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S2 Ep9: Remembering Charles Portis, with David Kern

In this episode, Jonathan and the Circe Institute’s David Kern reminisce about the work of the recently deceased Charles Portis. They discuss the connections between fiction and flim-flammery, the role of the ridiculous in comic storytelling, the importance of leaving some work for the reader to do, the world’s smallest perfect man, and one of the world’s most perfect opening sentences.

David Kern heads up the Circe Institute’s Podcast Network. He hosts the Close Reads podcast, The Daily Poem podcast, and the Libromania podcast. A shortened version of this conversation will be posted as an episode of Libromania.

Notes for Writers of Alma Maters

I graduated from Warner Robins High School (Go Demons!). Our alma mater probably looked a lot like your alma mater:
 On the city’s eastern border,
Led by God’s great hand,
Proudly stands our alma mater,
Dearest in the land.
We will ever sing thee praises,
Striving without fail.
Here’s to thee, our alma mater–
Robins High all hail!

 I’ve always felt that Warner Robins High School, the institution of learning where I first encountered Paradise Lost, The Canterbury Tales, and polynomials, deserved a better alma mater–though I suspect it’s close to the median for this sort of thing. Literary standards for alma maters are pretty low.

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Remembering Charles Portis: A Writer Who Makes Me Want to Write

I am forever asking writers, “Who are the writers who make you want to write.” For me, the first and best answer to that question is Charles Portis, the novelist best known for True Grit. I don’t suppose I could ever do what he did as a storyteller, but he has always made me want to try. I am sorry to say that Mr. Portis died yesterday, at the age of 86, in Little Rock, Arkansas.

In 1998, Ron Rosenbaum published a paean to Charles Portis in Esquiremagazine, praising him as “our least-known great writer”: 

Perhaps the most original, indescribable sui generis talent overlooked by literary culture in America. A writer who—if there’s any justice in literary history as opposed to literary celebrity—will come to be regarded as the author of classics on the order of a twentieth-century Mark Twain, a writer who captures the soul of America, the true timbre of the dream-intoxicated voices of this country, in a way that no writers’-workshop fictionalist has done or is likely to do…

Tom Wolfe once spoke about the way city-born creative-writing types go directly from East Coast hothouse venues to places like Iowa City, where “they rent a house out in the countryside, and after about their fifth conversation with a plumber named Lud, they feel that they know the rural psyche.”

Charles Portis is the real thing to which these grad-school simulacra can only aspire in their wildest dreams. He is a wild dreamer of a writer.

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On Love Letters: Start With Memory, Not Emotion

In August of 1988 I went to a watermelon social on the back porch of Furman University’s dining hall. I was more or less minding my own business when across the way I saw a girl who was so beautiful I could hardly believe she existed in the same world where I lived and moved and had my being. I don’t even know how to talk about this without sounding like the worst sort of Hallmark card, so I’ll spare you.

I didn’t speak to the aforementioned girl at the watermelon social, but I spoke to her eventually, and eventually we got married and raised six children together. That face that was such a marvel to me in August of 1988 is now more familiar to me than my own face.

But every now and then, when we arrive separately at a party or a school event or church, I’ll catch a glimpse of my wife from across the room, and I’m astonished all over again. I’m that nineteen-year-old boy, and she’s that eighteen-year-old girl. The amazement that such a creature exists at all is compounded by the amazement that she’s the most familiar thing in the world to me.

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S2 Ep6: Elyse Fitzpatrick & Eric Schumacher

Elyse Fitzpatrick and Eric Schumacher are co-authors of Worthy: Celebrating the Value of Women. In this episode, Jonathan, Elyse, and Eric discuss writing as an antidote to reducing other people to categories, the church’s responsibility to defend victims of sexual abuse, the cowriting process for Elyse and Eric, and how they have chosen to navigate a politically fraught topic.

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