The Writer’s Garden, or 4 Lessons Learned From Tolkien

My wife, Linda, loves to garden. Many days I’ll glance up from my computer and see her love-labor: watering (daily), pulling weeds (often), trimming branches (Spring and Fall), or starting a new planting project. Our yard is her passion, a passion slowly realized over a course of many years.

Writing is the same.

We’ve lived in our house nestled at the base of the Oregon Cascades for eleven years. The other day Linda and I discovered—separately—that one of the trees lining the front yard is a fruit-bearing plum.

Eleven years and it finally bore fruit. Eleven years. We shook our heads in amazement.

I thought of Tolkien: The Hobbit was published in 1937 to a moderate response, thankfully enough so that he was asked to write a sequel. He published Lord of the Rings in 1954-55: again, a good but not great response. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that the Professor’s popularity sky-rocketed, thanks in part to the hippy generation and their attraction to the peculiar.

The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy are now considered the standard for fantasy literature, and J.R.R. Tolkien the pinnacle of the genre. I would hazard to say most fantasy writers have read the wondrous tales of Middle Earth (as well as millions of others). The making of the movies by Peter Jackson further solidified Tolkien’s standing.

J.R.R. never thought The Hobbit and Middle Earth would gain the popularity they enjoy today, and would not have if The Hobbit did not find its way into the right hands at the right time, quite by accident. We are forever grateful it did.

He wrote The Hobbit for his children. In 1936 the incomplete book came to the attention of Susan Dagnall, an employee of the London publisher, George Allen & Unwin. She persuaded Tolkien to finish and submit the manuscript for publication, the book was published a year later, and surprisingly (to J.R.R, at least) attracted as many adult readers as his intended audience, children.

What if Susan Dagnall—now only a historical footnote—had not encouraged the Professor to submit The Hobbit?

Between the times The Hobbit was published and Tolkien completed The Lord of the Rings, his garden flourished as he made additional seed-notes about a wide variety of characters, languages, Middle Earth histories, plots and sub-plots totaling thousands of pages.

Not all his work bore fruit before his death, but his son, Christopher, tended the fields of his father’s garden, giving us The Silmarillion as well as other Middle Earth stories his father created.

I learned four valuable lessons reading about J.R.R. Tolkien and his success.

Think long about your topic
Write for your audience (and you may be surprised who that encompasses)
Submit your work
Be Patient

Think Long About Your Topic (Plan Your Garden)

When planning and planting a garden, one needs to ascertain many variables—soil components, distance between plantings, growing season, time of year, etc.—and the same is true of writing.

Planning a story or novel includes extensive notes, character sketches, time-lines, plots and subplots, and a host of other intricacies. When writing fantasy, world-building and magic need to be consistent in addition to all else that entails story-writing. All these and more are your seeds when planning a story or novel.

Write For Your Audience (Tend the Garden)

Daily garden maintenance parallels daily writing needs—editing reminds me of removing encroaching weeds that do damage and strangle otherwise healthy plants.

Read voraciously within your chosen genre to understand what has been done before, then twist the idea into your own worldview. If, as with fantasy fiction where there are numerous sub-genres, read in the one you enjoy, but don’t ignore the others. Whether Epic or Heroic or Urban Fantasy, you will see similarities between genres as well as specialties within each sub-group.

Once you grasp the leanings of your choice genre, create a unique story for that audience, and don’t be afraid to experiment. Like Tolkien, you might be surprised of the true readership and the expansive market potential.

Submit Your Work (Plant the Garden)

No matter how much you think about planting a garden, the ground remains barren if you don’t get your hands dirty and actually put the seeds or starter plants in the ground.

The same is true when it comes to writing.

As I wrote in a previous post: Writers Write: Authors Submit.

Your career remains barren if you do not submit your work, your writing forever lost to readers everywhere.

If just beginning your career, seek out by-lines rather than dollars. Unpaid published work is still published. Use the by-lines to promote your skills, like heirloom plants whose seeds give birth to future generations (ie., paid-for writing).

Which brings up the fourth item I learned from Tolkien:

Patience (Wait For Harvest)

It’s exciting to watch the fruits and vegetables ripen, plucking succulent tomatoes or golden raspberries when they reach maturity, and it requires patience.

Likewise, the writing craft embodies patience, which begins by waiting for a seed-idea to germinate before bursting forth to blossom into a fully realized story.

Once a story is completed and submitted to the first potential publisher on your list, it is time to get to work on the next project (similar to rotating crops).

Great writers get rejected, masterpieces hidden from the world until a courageous, far-sighted editor takes a chance on an unknown—You.

Plant the garden, tend the seedlings, wait, and you, too, shall reap the harvest.

See You on the Next Page,

Rick

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Author: Rick "C" Langford

Writer, blogger, Business Owner, dreamer, and fantasy lover

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