10 Bits of Stellar Advice from J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkienby Jenny Hansen

What if Tolkien had never written his books? What if there had been no Hobbits and no Gandalf, no Legolas or Frodo? The world of story would be an entirely different place.

Our journey and our personal stories matter. They really do.

10 Tips from the “Master of Middle Earth”:

1. Vanity is useless.
Truly, Tokien wrote his books to please himself and answer the writer inside him. He expected them to go “into the waste-paper basket” after they left his desk, not live on in popular culture. If you entertain yourself in your chosen career, at least you know one person who enjoyed the hell out of the journey.

2. Keep going, even through adversity.
It took Tolkien SEVEN years to write The Hobbit. He balanced a demanding day job, illness, and worry for his son who was away in the Royal Navy. I’m reminded of a saying by Winston Churchill: “When you’re in hell, keep going.”

3. Listen to critics you trust.
When his editor said, “Make it better,” he didn’t throw the advice away. He read and re-read, and he tried his best. Tolkien credited listening to knowledgeable feedback, and working to improve, for what he considered the best scene in the Lord of the Rings. Oh, and the editor he listened to? C.S. Lewis, the creator of the Chronicles of Narnia.

4. Let your interests drive your journey.
Tolkien’s original interest was in languages. He took that and created new languages, and then an entire culture, around it. Whether you’re looking for work, or a spouse, focusing on what you love will ensure the journey is a fun one.

5. Small steps lead to bigger ones.
When he could not express his thoughts in the prose he wished for, he wrote much of it in verse. Authors as diverse as Charlotte Brontë and Langston Hughes started in poetry before moving to longer mediums. Next time you get stuck, think about Tolkien’s trick of writing a scene as a poem first.

6. Happy accidents.
No matter how much you plan, happy accidents occur in every project. As my pal Laura Drake says, “If you don’t show up, you won’t have any ‘happy accidents.'”

Gollum7. Dreams give us inspiration.
All of us have dreams so strong, they push us to continue the journey. When Tolkien dreamed of drowning, he channeled the experience into motifs and prose for his stories.

8. Real people are fascinating.
Tolkien drew on real people to populate Middle Earth. Real people do amazing things, both big and small. Appreciate the people around you, and if you don’t, go find better ones.

9. You may be the next “big thing.”
Tolkien did not expect the acclaim he received from his first book, The Hobbit. He felt like it was a happy accident. You won’t know if you can get the job, sell the book or learn a new skill until you try.

10. Your work may seem trite.
Whether it’s a book or a project, or a child we’re raising, most of us have a difficult time seeing our own actions clearly. Tolkien believed that if you learn the skills you need for a project and pour your heart and imagination into it, that the work will resonate. I believe that too.

Note: An infographic titled J.R.R. Tolkien’s 10 Tips for Writers inspired me to write this post. The infographic summarized material from a wonderful post by Roger Colby at Writing Is Hard Work, outlining his research on writing advice shared by the Lord of the Rings author in the book, “The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.”

Here’s a link to Tolkien’s work in its entirety.

Are you a Tolkien fan? What was your favorite book by him? Which point above most resonated with you? Continue the discussion at the #SocialIn hashtag on Twitter or SocialInDC on Facebook!

~ Jenny

About Jenny Hansen

By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 18 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter at JennyHansenCA or at Writers In The Storm.

© 2014 Jenny Hansen. All content on this page is protected by copyright. If you would like to use any part of this, please contact me at the above links to request permission.

photo credit: kugel via photopin cc

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