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Why We're Called Inkling (Or: When Lewis Met Tolkien)

The Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, & C.S. Lewis (courtesy

It was an unlikely place for two creative people to connect. The atmosphere was contentious: a group of academes determining the curriculum for first year students. But among the faculty members in the heated debate unfolding at Merton College were two men who would become the authors of some of the most revered works of literature ever written.

C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien didn’t think much of each other at first and certainly didn’t have much in common on the surface. Tolkien was a linguistics expert who saw little value in literature written beyond the medieval period. Lewis recounted their first meeting in his diary, calling Tolkien a “smooth, pale, fluent little chap” who “only needs a smack or so.” It didn’t help that their differences led to sharp disagreements about the curriculum in question.

The more the two talked, though, they discovered they were more alike than different, especially in their mutual love of mythology. They discovered a connection between their areas of expertise that allowed them both to more greatly appreciate language and stories. They both bore the scars of service in World War I and the loss of parents at a young age.

The turning point in their relationship occurred when Tolkien asked Lewis to give him some feedback on a poem he wrote, a testament to the level of trust their friendship had reached. Initially, Lewis wrote him a half page letter encouraging him in his literary efforts, stating that he had a few points of contention to bring up and would write another letter to discuss them. The second letter contained 14 pages of constructive criticism, where Lewis even rewrote portions of the poem to demonstrate how it could be improved. Imagine that you allowed a friend to read a poem or story and got these two letters. Which one would you prefer to receive? For Tolkien, the 14-page letter meant so much more. It proved that he had finally found a friend who wanted to exhort him to reach his full potential as a writer and truly had his best interests at heart. Tolkien and Lewis began meeting regularly to discuss their writing projects. These meetings eventually expanded to form the Inklings, an informal writing society at the University of Oxford, which met weekly to read the members’ work aloud, discuss it, and provide feedback.

They called themselves the Inklings because their goal was to bring their small or unborn ideas and allow them to grow in the context of a honest, encouraging community. We all know the rest of the story. Without the friendship between Tolkien and Lewis, the stories of Middle Earth and Narnia wouldn’t be the same stories we know today. At one point, Tolkien was even ready to give up on Lord of the Rings, but Lewis persuaded him to see his sprawling epic through to completion. By extension, the two also influenced generations of writers and shaped the fantasy genre as we know it today.

All this because two guys who initially didn’t like each other much decided to talk about mythology.

That brings me to a question: Do you have an inner circle of writing friends? And if not, how is that working out for you?

Having one writing buddy is great. But having a whole community is even better.

This is nothing new. It’s why we have writer’s groups. It’s why we have MFA programs. But as we’ve moved as a society toward being more isolated in the last year, it’s become even more crucial for creative people to connect. Writing has never been a solo act. Behind every truly successful writer is a community helping them to accomplish their best for their work.

Maybe we’re limited in terms of how we can meet with each other right now…but ironically, it has never been easier to form the powerful connections we need to achieve our writing goals. I hate the pandemic, but I’ve also experienced more personal and creative growth in the last year that at any time in my life, including my own time in an MFA program.

I owe it to the fact that there are so many resources out there right now. I’ve joined an online writing community, attended lectures with authors I admire, and been to online conferences. Plus, I’ve joined networking groups that have been a huge help with setting up Inkling Creative Strategies so I can learn what writers need and serve them better.

There are more places than ever to go to find the community you need. However, there’s another reason why making this move is vital to your writing life. It’s that isolation simply makes the world a darker place. And I say this as a pretty serious introvert. For a lot of people I know, the “COVID Fatigue” we were all dealing with around the holidays has now given way to “COVID Despair.” Not just because of case numbers or curfews or vaccines that are taking longer than expected to deploy or these freak snowstorms in Texas, but because there’s just nothing happening. The greyness and brutality of winter has become a gloomy reminder of how much life has been brought to a standstill. At the time of this writing, I’ve spoken to three people who are experiencing severe depression. Earlier this month, while helping my husband with dinner, I started crying because I miss going to see live theatre. I’ve experienced a lack of creative motivation just due to feeling sad.

And I don’t have a problem admitting that because I know I’m not alone. But My writing community just started its first writing class of the year. I’m registered for the Cleveland Flash Fiction Festival happening all of next week. I know that I’m going to leave those events invigorated by fellowship with artists and excited about the new things I’ve learned from them.

Events that will inspire me to create and time with people who have become so special to me in the last several months are exactly what I need to refresh my soul and my creativity. It’s worth investing your resources in a group or organization where you attend an event and think to yourself, as Tolkien and Lewis did, “These are my people.”

So where do you find writing friends? MeetUp is a great place to start. Download the app, create your account, and search for writing-related events in your area. Also, with so many groups meeting online, you can even attend events outside of your immediate community. LinkedIn also offers professional networking, including groups related to writing and publishing. Plus, I’ve got a few ways that I can help, too.

Through Inkling Creative Strategies, I’m proud to offer you a complimentary Virtual Meetup, a 30-minute connection on Zoom to drink hot beverages (tea or coffee are both acceptable) and talk about your writing challenges, concerns, and goals. There’s no obligation to buy anything or sign up for a program, although I’ll definitely share a little bit about how I might be able to help if I think you’d benefit from some service or another.

Mostly, though, I just want to talk about what’s going on in your creative world and form meaningful connections. That’s because the Inklings’ val­ues—honesty, community, creativity, and love—are also my values. It’s why my mission is to help writers reach their creative potential so they can impact and inspire readers. Click here to learn more and grab some time to connect.

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