Friday, July 13, 2012

Writing Advice from JRR Tolkien

Writing Advice from JRR Tolkein

I'm not one who thinks that advice from successful authors is the only advice we should listen to, for the same reasons that star athletes don't always make good coaches. We all think differently, especially the geniuses among us, and the skill of writing is different from the skill of teaching about writing. A mediocre writer might give great advice, while a great writer might give terrible advice - even if the inverse is more likely to be true.

At the same time, it's wise to listen to people who've had great success, if for no other purpose than insight into the mind of a success. With that in mind, I'm going to start looking at lessons from some of the great authors I'd like to imitate (read: steal from).

From JRR Tolkien (Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit):

"I find it only too easy to write opening chapters--and at the moment the story is not unfolding. I squandered so much on the original 'Hobbit' (which was not meant to have a sequel) that it is difficult to find anything new in that world."

Lesson: Hold Nothing Back. It's amazing to think that Tolkien finished The Hobbit, and thought there was nothing left to write in that universe. But more poignant is the idea that he never planned to do so in the first place. When Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, he wasn't thinking about writing sequels, or about leaving anything left in the universe for future novels. When he wrote his first novel, he was simply writing the best book he could manage.

"Every writer making a secondary world wishes in some measure to be a real maker, or hopes that he is drawing on reality: hopes that the peculiar quality of this secondary world (if not all the details) are derived from Reality, or are flowing into it."

Lesson: Write Your Dreams. One of the most seductive aspects of writing is your ability to play God. It's unique to writing as an art form that you have the ability to create your own universe, and to manipulate it as you see fit. The greatest writing comes from our ability to fully flesh out our greatest ambitions.

"If you're going to have a complicated story you must work to a map; otherwise you'll never make a map of it afterwards."

Lesson: Outline, Outline, Outline. I know from my own experiences that this is an important tip for beginning writers, and especially for novels. A lot of people think they can wing a novel without an outline. Unless you're a savant, you really can't. Even if you are a "discovery writer" you need a plan to pull off the more complex plot elements in your writing.

"I am dreading the publication, for it will be impossible not to mind what is said. I have exposed my heart to be shot at." ~On the pending publication of Lord of the Rings

Lesson: Fear Not Failure. We're all scared that our dreams won't come true. That the story we've been slaving over for months or years has actually been a complete waste of time. And that might be true. But it's better to have tried and failed; the payoff could resonate longer than your lifespan.

Source: Arwen Undomiel

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