Updated: Dec 28, 2020
Recently, my husband and I have been watching The Lord of the Rings. Every year, usually around the fall or winter, we pull out our DVDs (the extended versions, of course) and settle in with tea, cider, ale, and other Middle Earth-appropriate beverages to enjoy our favorite story. There’s a scene at the beginning of The Two Towers when Gandalf and Aragorn survey the night sky together and review the situation. It’s not good. Sauron’s Eye is hell-bent on watching for any possible threat. He is using Saruman to sicken the mind of King Théoden of Rohan so he can overtake the village and expand his power.
There’s one ace in the hole, though: he is unaware that the destruction of the Ring is the end-game. Everything now depends on Frodo’s ability to succeed in his quest. Gandalf tells Aragorn to not regret his decision to leave Frodo behind and that this is a road he must travel alone, but Aragorn corrects him: “He is not alone. Sam went with him.”
Gandalf is quick to change his previous statement. He smiles his inimitable Gandalf smile.
“Did he, now?” he says. “That’s good. Very good.”
From as long ago as creation, humans have functioned best in community. Adam’s first act was to participate in a creative enterprise with God. Later, God recognized that “it is not good that man should be alone,” and further met Adam’s need for community by creating Eve.
This theme continues throughout the Bible. In a famous verse frequently quoted at weddings, the author of Ecclesiastes writes, “Two are better than one, for they have a good return for their work.” Proverbs 27:17 reads, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
Bezelel, the artisan God placed in charge of building the Tabernacle, was given Oholiab as an assistant. Jesus sent the disciples out two by two. Aaron, Moses’ brother, partnered with him in his duties.
When God gives someone a task, He never sends them out alone. This concept is evident in virtually all literary texts beyond just the Bible. An essential ingredient of The Hero’s Journey is the moment when the protagonist meets the guide who will help them accomplish their quest.
Gandalf provides the wisdom Frodo needs to accomplish the ring’s destruction, Yoda teaches Luke the ways of the Force, and Dumbledore mentors Harry Potter as he develops his skills with wizardry. It doesn’t stop there, though. All these characters have not only guides, but friends to help them. Star Wars wouldn’t be the same without Leia and Han Solo, not to mention R2D2 and C-3PO. Without Ron and Hermione, Harry wouldn’t be much of a hero.
“Sam went with him.”
Creativity is an often-lonely enterprise that isn’t accomplished unless you are the one in a room putting words on a piece of paper. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not sexy and it’s often not much fun.
Flannery O’Connor (my favorite writer) even wrote, “Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay.”
And it takes a painful amount of discipline. Have you ever had the experience of sitting down to write…and suddenly wanting to do anything but write? Then the excuse machine fires up. I need to do laundry. There’s too much cat hair in the carpet. Maybe if I just watch one episode of something on Netflix it will jumpstart my mind.
And then there’s the worst excuse of all: I’m just not inspired right now. It’s not just the excuses, though. It’s the thoughts.
Stuff like…this sucks. Who cares what I have to say, anyway? Maybe I just need to start over…
…but then you don’t, because of the laundry, cat hair, and Netflix.
We all know how Lord of the Rings turned out…but just for a moment, think about what might have happened if Sam hadn’t gone with Frodo.
Frodo would have probably experienced the oppressive weight of the ring and become exhausted. Then, he would have been like, “You know, this is too hard. I’m just a hobbit. It’s not like I can do anything about the wave of evil sweeping over Middle Earth. I’m just going to go back to the Shire, chill out in Bilbo’s armchair, and wait to die.”
That’s what you’re doing when you say writing is too hard.
But find a community, get a mentor, and you have a whole set of tools to keep you from floundering in distraction, despair, and doubt.
You have accountability, encouragement, constructive criticism, and people to help you find stuff to write about.
And the truth is…if Tolkien hadn’t had a community, The Lord of the Rings probably wouldn’t exist.
The series was his life’s work, and the decades he spent on the books often left him exhausted and full of questions about whether it was any good…or even worth all the work at all.
C.S. Lewis is probably the reason we have these books at all. A member of the Oxford University literary group The Inklings (where our own name comes from), Lewis was there encouraging him to finish the job. Who is your C.S. Lewis? Who is your Sam? The kind of community formed around our creative efforts is what Inkling Creative Strategies is all about.
So, I want to welcome you to the Fellowship of the Words. Schedule a free Virtual Meetup with me, grab a cup of coffee, pretend like we’re hanging out at Starbucks, and let’s talk about what’s up with your writing.
I promise you’ll leave with some great ideas about how to develop your writing, create a new project, or find the people you need to team up with.
Writing Prompt: Write a paragraph about a person who has helped you or encouraged you with your art.