J.R.R. Tolkien (1892–1973) is the author of the beloved The Lord of the Rings trilogy, along with The Hobbit and many other celebrated books.
Here are four of his quotes to inspire your writing life!
1. A pen is to me as a beak is to a hen.
Something that helps you be a successful writer, not to mention live a happy and inspired creative life, is to always be taking note of the world around you. Even when you’re not writing, you’re writing, in a sense. When you leave your desk and your house and you go on an adventure, you might think you’re not doing anything to help your writing when, in fact, you’re giving yourself the necessary fuel for your next writing session and your next creative project.
J.R.R. Tolkien was always writing, always creating, and he clearly took a pen with him everywhere he went. Having a writing instrument with you at all times is helpful in case something happens and you want to write something down. It’s helpful when you see a spectacular image and you want to remember all its details. It’s helpful when you overhear the most bizarre conversation between two people and you want to make sure you get every word of the exchange down.
I have a pen and a small notebook in three places: in my bedroom, in my office, and in my car. As long as I’m close to any one of those three places, I can write something down quickly when inspiration hits me. So yes, take this advice seriously if you want to be a writer — it’s best you keep a pen and notebook in a few separate places, too!
2. Not all those who wander are lost.
There’s this mentality, especially today, that you shouldn’t waste a minute of your day and that you should always be on some kind of clear path if you want to be successful. Taking the time to read books for hours during the day or critically think about something in silence or go wander somewhere outside does not make you lost, remember that. All three of these activities and many, many others are essential to a successful creative life.
Just because you’re daydreaming about your latest story or novel doesn’t mean you’re wasting time. It’s actually the opposite: you’re saving time! When you daydream about your story and characters and scenes and themes, you’re doing the necessary work that needs to be done so that the writing part will go smoothly. You’ll have put lots of thought into everything you want to do in your latest project, and so the drafting process will be all the more focused… and fun!
Feel free to daydream. And feel free to wander. It’s the wandering that makes for the best stories and gives you the inspiration to do better work. Ignore the naysayers who think you should be more focused on tasks that have a clear purpose. Instead, let yourself wander as often as possible. Wandering doesn’t make you lost. Wandering makes you an awesome creative person who takes writing seriously.
3. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.
Oh my God, wouldn’t it? J.R.R. Tolkien was absolute right in that this would be a much merrier world if we focused more on the things that make us and others happy. Sure, we all need money to live a happy life, too, but so many people make money their number one goal. And when they get lots of money, they just want more money. They want as much money as possible! The problem is all of that wealth only gets you so much. It doesn’t buy you immortality. And, as they say, it doesn’t buy you happiness.
I think in the creative life it’s especially important to not fixate so much on money. We all want to be paid for our endeavors, of course, but when all you do is focus on how much money you can make from your latest creative project rather than try to be authentic in your storytelling, you’ll often find disappointment in the end. In the world of writing, readers can sniff out a phony from a mile away. They’ll know if you’re in this for the money or you’re in this for the art. Be in it for the art as much as possible.
Art is good for the soul, after all. Art is the place to explore your passions, your fears, your truth. If we all put a little more time on the elements that make life so valuable (and treated each other with a little more respect, too), we absolutely would have a merrier world.
4. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.
We all have a finite number of days in this world. We get to choose what we do with the time that is given us. So ask yourself these questions: what do you want to pursue? What excites you? What might you regret at an older age if you don’t go after something right now? I always feel lucky in that I knew from a young age what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to tell stories. I didn’t care about the medium. It could have been short stories or plays or novels or movies. I just loved to tell stories from as early as third grade, and I’ve never stopped since.
You have to go after the thing you love. You can’t be afraid of failure because here’s the thing — you will fail, probably often. Failure is necessary to learn and grow. No matter how much resistance you might face from people in your life, and no matter how many rejection slips roll in year after year, you have to keep going. Because you truly do get better as the years go by, developing important skills and clearly understanding what works and what doesn’t.
If you want to be a writer, stop thinking about it and talking about it, and do it. I spent a few years in my twenties not writing a word of anything because I didn’t believe I was good enough. And it took a a leap of faith for me to finally write my first novel at the age of twenty-five. It was a huge leap of faith, really, and I’m so glad I did it! Take it from me — it’s okay if you’re afraid to start something new. I still get afraid to this day. The key is to acknowledge that fear… and then do it anyway, like Carrie Fisher once told us. The confidence comes in the doing, so do it. Go for it!
None of us knows how much time we have left. So spend that time doing the thing you love, and keep going until you reach all the dreams that you seek.
PS Ready to be inspired? My newest craft book From Douglas Adams to Markus Zusak: Quotes by 100 Amazing Authors to Inspire Your Writing is now available on Amazon!