The Secret Every Author Can Learn From ‘The Hobbit’ Movie

The Hobbit - Part 1Midnight: I’ve just returned from a screening of ‘The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey’.

The late show was the only screening I could get into – all the other sessions were sold out. No spoilers, but let’s just say that I’m impatiently holding out for Part 2, ‘The Desolation Of Smaug’.

To say that Peter Jackson has done it again would be the understatement of the century.  The movie has taken $124 million worldwide at the box office on day 1, breaking all previous records.  The one movie that rules them all.

So what, you might ask, is this ‘secret’ that authors need to know?  How did this Tolkien story spawn yet another blockbuster?

The truth is that when professor J.R.R. Tolkien was writing his tales, he didn’t just chase a trend, but wrote his unique Middle Earth stories based on his own interests.  He went on a voyage of discovery into what he loved, creating an entire imaginary world, and populating it with an astonishing array of characters such as Gandalf, Gollum and Bilbo Baggins. He even invented an Elvish language.

Gandalf - The Hobbit Part 1How on earth did he do this?  By delving into the mysteries of his deepest interests and fascinations – writing from the heart, and therein lies the secret:


Tolkien had always been intrigued by traditional tales, especially about dragons, and his commitment to what he loved has spawned a vast industry – even though his success came as a complete surprise to him.  He felt that the things he wrote were not really life changing at all, but simply “imaginings from my head”. 

But it didn’t come easily.  He struggled to finish his epic novels and it took him 7 years to write The Hobbit, while continuing to teach at Pembroke College, Oxford.  But he managed it, largely because his deep interest in the subject sustained him through difficult periods.

How To Find Your Originality As A Writer

As writers, what we can learn from Tolkien is that we must draw from our deepest wells.  These are the interests that we’d continue to pursue and learn about even if we weren’t writing about them.

I’ll admit that it’s a delicate balance:  While it’s vital to avoid chasing a popular fad, there also needs to be a market for our stories.  That much is common sense, and in Tolkien’s case he wasn’t at all sure that anyone would like his work.

Quoting him regarding ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ …

J.R.R.Tolkien…I certainly hope to leave behind me the whole thing revised and in final form, (LOTR) for the world to throw into the waste-paper basket.  All books come there in the end, in this world, anyway…”

J.R.R. Tolkien

There’s also no question that an original idea is a ‘lighthouse’ when it comes to marketing.  It stands out amongst the sputtering lamplights of imitators.  This enables it to ignite the promotional wave that actually sells books: Word-of-Mouth recommendation.

However, it’s equally true that some writers still need to imitate or ‘pay homage to’ other authors as a necessary step to discovering their own style.  Furthermore, I’m not saying you must write to the level of Tolkien.  Many writers are more than happy to ‘be published’ and earn enough to quit their day job.  What I am saying is that to have any real chance of success, writers need to avoid being seduced by the latest fiction fad, because if it’s already everywhere you look, it’s probably over.

Nora Roberts“But what about Romantic Fiction – surely it doesn’t apply to that?”

You may wonder, for example, how this crucial principle of originality applies to the largest genre of all, the big ‘R’ –  Romantic Fiction.  Whilst this is a world far from Tolkien’s Middle Earth, make no mistake – originality is just as important here too.

Look no further than Nora Roberts.  She dropped a bombshell on the genre by dumping the submissive styling of Mills and Boone heroines, and created stories with far stronger, fiestier, more self reliant types.  Yet, the books are just as ‘Romantic’ as ever.

As a result of this original approach, there are more than 400 million of her novels in print, and she earns over $60 million a year.

The bottom line is to look in the mirror and ask yourself this question:  “Am I a creator or an imitator?”  So trust your muse, have faith and reach into the bell jars and the high towers of your imagination.

You’ll find your originality by delving deeply into the things you love.

Have you seen ‘The Hobbit’ movie?  Did you like it or hate it?  Will you visit Middle Earth?  Do leave a comment.

Middle Earth - New Zealand





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  • December 20, 2012 at 6:02am

    Thanks, Jonathan, great reminders tonight as I strengthen my resolve to get back to my novel. I had an editor once hold out the plot points in Harry Potter series as the gold-standard to follow. Rather daunting advice. I think your take is better. Dig around inside and find that spark that got us writing in the first place. The love of story, told differently.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      December 20, 2012 at 6:24am

      Michelle. Excited that you’re plunging back into your novel. It’s a tremendously rewarding thing to do. Do read the other Tolkien article as well: “Tolkien’s Top TenTips For Writers.”

      PS. These Twitter connections really do work brilliantly. ~ Jonathan

  • December 20, 2012 at 6:12am

    Another fine post, Jonathan! Thank you for sharing. Plan to see The Hobbit when the crowds die down, heard it was visually spectacular.
    Love to return to Middle Earth (New Zealand) one day!

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      December 20, 2012 at 6:29am

      Lorna. When you arrive here in Middle Earth, I shall personally escort you to Bilbo Baggins house at Hobbiton.

      Re: The movie – it is extremely action filled – rather a lot of violence, but I can see past all of that to the powerful performances. ‘The Hobbit’ is the first Tolkien book I read.

      ~ Jonathan

  • December 20, 2012 at 7:00am

    Terrific post, Jonathan. I can’t wait to see the Hobbit. I’ve read the Hobbit and the LOTR books many times. Thank goodness the movies have been so well done – the books deserved special treatment. I’m glad to hear the Hobbit is also very good. Whenever I get to NZ (and I will since I already have friends there), visiting the filming areas is high on my list of things to do!

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      December 20, 2012 at 7:09am

      Willa, Middle Earth awaits your presence.

      The Hobbit book I first read when 20 years old. (Have you read it?) I loved it then, still do. But, I wondered how Peter Jackson would spread such a tale over THREE long movies. The solution he came up with is that the briefest of battles in the book are now huge epics. But it works OK, and the gentleness of Bilbo Baggins is a fantastic foil to the clashes and violence. And equally, the contrast with the warriors as he departs with them on his ‘unexpected adventure’ – all just as I remember from the book long ago.

  • December 20, 2012 at 7:31am

    I found my writing niche once I hit on interests that were closest to my heart … and as a reader of Tolkien I recognised some of the stories and myths he had read. The same goes for JK Rowling. If you’re in the same headspace you see that in the books you choose to read … and the movies as well. I’m looking forward to seeing the ‘Hobbit’ … it’s only just released here in Tasmania and I’m sure that Peter Jackson has done a superb job.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      December 20, 2012 at 8:10am

      Margaret. We really must stick to our passions – as long as there’s a market for them, but more particularly what we’re really good at yes? ~ Jonathan

  • December 20, 2012 at 7:48am

    I didn’t rush to see the Hobbit as the trailers didn’t inspire me the way LOTR did. But I plan to see before or on Christmas Day. Can’t really go wrong with the same vision and direction, can it? It’s funny because I’ve never been a fan of LOTR and found the trilogy rather boorish. Absolutely loved the movies, however. My fantasy ‘moment’ came with Robert Jordan, who of course owes much to Tolkien. One cannot stress the importance of Tolkien’s work, even if not a fan of it. It will stand in history as the tome that all epic fantasy is judged by. Great article. Gives me inspiration to dust off the fantasy manuscript I completed as my first novel. Never published, but when the time is right I’ll definitely toss my die into the world of fantasy and see what happens…

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      December 20, 2012 at 8:08am

      Standing by for the fantasy book Bard. The Hobbit Movie not as striking in scale as LOTR, and is pretty much a Peter Jackson battle fest, but with truly magical moments strung through it making it a winner.

      ‘The Atlantic’ panned it. I don’t agree. Characters superb. Look for the moment when Bilbo reappears and gives his reason for going along on the quest. Heroic moment. Moving.

      Agree re Tolkien being the gold standard. Not so sure however about the ‘boorish’ aspect of the books – didn’t strike me that way when I read LOTR. But if you’re inspired to write fantasy again … that’s sensational to hear. How is your character Mike Trubble doing? (V amusing name that)

      ~ Jonathan

  • December 20, 2012 at 10:00am

    Thank you for an amazingly inspirational article. I completely agree with the point you make – writing from one’s heart creates the most powerful, beautiful, original works. And it also sustains you through difficult times because as you highlighted as well: success doesn’t come overnight. As a fantasy author, I relate to the story of Tolkien’s writing easily, and I also think that originality and hard work are the pre-requisites of success in any art. Writing, acting, painting, singing… the recipe for success reads the same. Originality, hard work and perhaps above all else, pouring who you are into your work. It takes enormous courage to follow one’s heart’s call, even though other endeavors could provide more instant, however superficial, gratification. That’s why I admire men like Adam Lambert or Gerald Butler who had the guts to follow their dreams despite initial hardship.

    And here comes still something more which helps one to persist and continue on his journey: knowing who you are doing it all for. Coming back to writing, this part boils down to the question: who do you write for? I believe it’s crucial to answer this question honestly. And when one does it, he or she doesn’t start chasing the wave of what is cool, popular, trendy at that given time. As for me, I have an absolutely clear answer to this question deep in my heart. I write for my characters. And as long as they are happy with the way I tell their tales, I have my lighthouse for navigation through any storms.

  • Jonathan Gunson says:
    December 20, 2012 at 10:48am

    Ciaran, having read your comment, I’ll wager that your characters have developed a life of their own, and sometimes seem to have been making decisions behind your back yes? That’s a sure sign that they’ve originated from the heart, from your deepest wells. “…pouring who you are into your work…” Yes indeed. ~ Jonathan

    • December 27, 2012 at 1:47pm

      Thank you, Jonathan. You’re right in your assumption. They have lives on their own. And they are kind enough to tell their tales to me so that I can write them and share them with others.

  • December 20, 2012 at 12:01pm

    Hi Jonathan

    Saw the Hobbit last night – brilliant! I loved it and can’t wait for next one. Thought your article was great too – thank you

  • December 20, 2012 at 12:20pm

    Hey Jonathan, interesting article – I’m definitely going to see the Hobbit.
    But in terms of originality, Tolkien is the worst poster child here.

    Magic, Kingdoms, Elves, Orks, Dragons, Trolls, Goblins and Dwarves – he invented neither of them, but merely mashed them all together.
    The story is awesome and he definitely poured his heart into it, but there’s nothing
    original about it at all.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      December 20, 2012 at 8:05pm

      Mars – True re Tolkien not inventing Magic, Kingdoms, Elves, Orks, Dragons, Trolls, Goblins and Dwarves

      What I am saying is that he never chased a trend.

      No-one else had cast an assembly of characters the way he did since the time of Shakespeare, and the bard did exactly the same – writing with breathtaking originality whilst taking existing myths and legends and reworking them.

      At the time he wrote his stories, Tolkien’s work was unfashionable. There wasn’t a dull glut of writers all producing similar work such as you see with ‘Vampires’ now. He didn’t follow a trend, but stuck with delving into the mysteries of his greatest interests – things he was still learning about. This is my meaning of originality in this context. By contrast if a writer today produced a new novel about elves, goblins, wizards and a magic Kingdom with dragons and the like, then yes, that would be somewhat unoriginal and imitative.

      My hope is to save writers from wasting time on fiction fads that are burned out. Only a fool would follow those. For example Neil Gaiman has just cancelled his Vampire book due to the fad genre being glutted.

      Quoting him. “…Vampires go in waves, and it kind of feels like we’re now finishing a vampire wave, because at the point where they’re everywhere it’s probably time to go back underground for another 20 years or another 25 years. They’ve reached the saturation point…”
      (This quote was in the post, but I removed it as being too discouraging.)

      The reality is that there’s ‘nothing new under the sun’ (to spout a cliche.) In fact, these seminal videos by Kirby Ferguson, a New York-based filmmaker, were made to remove confusion about exactly this point:

      Brilliant creativity always reworks the past – everything is a remix.

      ~ Jonathan

  • December 20, 2012 at 1:01pm

    This is a wonderful post.

    Its very tempting to think, when scrolling through the bestseller lists, why don’t I just write a book like this or that, since it seems that’s what people want to read.

    It takes a lot of determination to stay true to what YOU really want to write, especially if financial success is a short term goal.

    On the Hobbit, I saw it the day it came out. As Lorna said, “Visually Spectacular” is the right phrase. I remember thinking, every still from this movie would make a spectacular wall hanging. Bilbo’s speech when he reappears is also very touching. The song the dwarves sang on the first night…. Awesome.

    The movie packs a lot, I actually prefer it to all three LOTR movies… but that might be because I’ve seen those at least five times each.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      December 20, 2012 at 8:35pm

      Somi. Re “determination to stay true to what YOU really want to write…’ I took some pains to make the following point: “… I’ll admit that it’s a delicate balance: While it’s vital to avoid chasing a popular fad, there also needs to be a market for our stories…” ~ Jonathan

  • December 20, 2012 at 1:44pm

    Hello Jonathan,

    Thank you for your spirited post. Yes, to be different in a world where most people are afraid to embrace the new is indeed a daunting challenge. Thankfully, we have writers like yourself and Tolkien and many others who embrace originality.

    I saw The Hobbit last weekend and I loved it. And like Bilbo Baggins, I want to help my fellowman. I’m on a quest to write stories that encourage people to appreciate each other and the gift of life.

    My published novel, LIFE: AS FRAGILE AS DUST, is about people living life on a ragged edge. And it begs the question, what are we doing to make sure the people in our life, who are at the cliff’s edge, won’t go over?

    When you have a chance, please check out our family blog:

    Paul Worthington

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      December 20, 2012 at 8:44pm

      Paul ~ “Come on in, cop-a-squat.” Love that. So I checked out your blog. Insightful / thoughtful, makes a great contribution. The Gordon Parks quote struck a loud chord: “I think people can do a whole awful lot more if they just try.” ~ Jonathan

  • December 20, 2012 at 1:47pm

    Thanks, Jonathan, for a great post! I loved The Hobbit and appreciate that Peter Jackson as well as Tolkien work from the heart. Critics here in the States panned the movie but fans ignored them and went to see the movie in droves.

    One of my marketing problems of late has been comparing my work to other books/authors. This past week, I found myself telling a publisher that I don’t follow a strict genre-specific formula (for better or worse), that I write stories that I want to read with characters I want to meet and get to know better. Your post gives me hope that perhaps in the long run, I’m not crazy to follow my gut and my heart, although I sometimes smack myself in the head and ask why I can’t just write a good teen vampire heroine who runs well in heels.

    I look forward to the next installment of The Hobbit–and to your next post.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      December 20, 2012 at 8:40pm


      Truth is it’s easier if your book can be identified as fitting into this or that genre – if only to make people pick it up or for a publisher to fit into a pigeon hole. But there’s no law that says so.

      Re your ‘Vampire’ books point: A subscriber just sent me a note quoting film director, Taylor Hackford, who observed in an interview that by the time one makes a film (or writes a book) in obeisance to a “trend,” it has already passed.

      ~ Jonathan

  • December 20, 2012 at 1:55pm

    Wonderful post, Jonathan.

    I write romance of several sub-genres and am having a tough time choosing which to stick with. I enjoy variety in my reading and the same goes with my writing, still, I know the importance of finding your ‘place’.

    Going by the 5 Star reviews of my last two releases, it looks like I may have found it. One was a contemporary western, the other a contemporary time-shift (hero is brought to the present from WWII), but both similarities I can’t ignore. They have military protagonists (both the heroes and heroines are military), humor spliced throughout and the heat levels are sexy/hot. They are also the first books in two seperate series of which I’ve started to get fan emails asking if there will be another book. So, yes, I think I may have found my nitch.

    But, I cannot imagine not writing another sci-fi or paranormal. I supposed I might have to start writing them under another penname. I’ll figure it out.

    I saw The Hobbit last Thursday at midnight. Loved it! I have to admit, it was actually better than I expected. LOTR was a tough act to follow, but Peter did a good job. Looking forward to the next.

    • December 20, 2012 at 2:35pm

      Hi Jonathan, I totally agree with your point about being passionate about what you write. I would also add that the author’s “voice” is as important and that the two elements are critical. The “voice” identifies an author as much as fingerprints and it can take years for a writer to develop their individual “voice” and stamp it onto their work (I know. It took me years! But now my books are as individual as DNA).
      Passion of your subject / characters / situation coupled with an established “voice” is a magical combination.
      My wife insists we’ll be visiting NZ probably in 2013 or 2014 and that Hobbiton will be a must on out itinerary and a guided tour would be great! Asides from which it would be good to meet up. I shall also bring over my copy of your Merlin book for signature!

      • Jonathan Gunson says:
        December 20, 2012 at 8:28pm

        Standing by for your visit Richard. All Hobbiton awaits you. And yes it takes time to find one’s unique ‘voice’, which is why it’s perfectly OK to ‘pay homage to’ others while learning. ~ Jonathan

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      December 20, 2012 at 8:51pm

      Donna ~ There’s a big problem for writers wanting to write in two niches. The solution is laid bare by Nora Roberts. It’s FAR easier to be known for a single genre. She crashed into this issue, and decided not to contaminate her Romantic fiction brand. Instead she uses a pseudonym ‘J.D Robb’ – for her futuristic police procedural ficton, and now Robb sells almost as much as Nora. ~ Jonathan

  • December 20, 2012 at 2:05pm

    What great insight into what it takes to be special in the world of writing, Jonathan. I read once that Tolkien started out writing the stories for his kids or grandkids and it just kept growing in his mind. He is the ‘gold standard’ for fantasies, but every writer can take a lesson from his mind.

    I can’t wait to see the movie. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings got me started in reading many many years ago. I still re-read them today.

  • Writer says:
    December 20, 2012 at 2:45pm

    Good reminders and all things I strive to do. I won’t be seeing the hobbit
    Because if it’s blatant lack of regard for animal life during the production.
    Animal handlers kept warning the staff the area they were filming at was not safe for
    The animals (they were falling in holes and getting injured and dying EVERYDAY) the movie crew did nothing.
    So animal handlers began quiting.
    This is an outrage and I for one do not subscribe to ” the show must go on no matter what the cost”
    This is just another display of ” money is more important then life”.
    So no, I will not be seeing any of these movies.

  • December 20, 2012 at 4:28pm

    Hello Jonathan.
    further to the email I sent you re turning my book [ The Twilight People, on Amazon ] into film, Ursula Devine of Northern Ireland Screen contacted me last week about same. She wants me to write a screenplay taken from the book and send it in to her. But not having written a screenplay before, I’m in two minds about starting this in case I make a fool out of myself. Could you give me a tip or two on this, as I’ve just started another book with only the first two chapters completed, my hands are fully full! The new book is about a fella – me – who went through hospitals here in Belfast having had cancer four times, with many operations, in the last eighteen years. Cheers Jonathan, patrick.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      December 20, 2012 at 9:17pm


      I don’t think you’ll make a fool of yourself by writing a screenplay. However, it would pay to point out your inexperience to Ursula Devine, and locate an editor or screenplay writer with experience to give you some coaching.

      A screenplay is a completely different form to a novel, and distinctly structured with three main (obvious) parts: a beginning, a middle and an end as you might expect, but within that some key subdivisions. For example in the opening scene you have to grab the audience almost straight way with a crisis that hits the (reluctant) hero. This is what will motivate the screenplay right through the movie – the emotional core and high stakes as the hero figures out how to overcome the crisis.

      The other point I will make is that ‘story’ in the screenplay must always advance, not meander off into a side road.

      Essentially the hero character must arc from ‘don’t want to get involved’, to eventually overcoming the crisis. It is watching a character react to increasing pressure that fascinates. The most powerful movies have three character story arcs:

      1. Intrapersonal – battling internal demons
      2. Interpersonal – battling an antagonist
      3. Extrapersonal – battling the environment

      You don’t have to have all of these, but if you do, it can dramatically increase the strength of your screenplay.

      ~ Jonathan

  • December 20, 2012 at 4:36pm

    Awesome post. I agree. It’s sometimes hard to find that original twist that will make your work stand out, but I think writing from the heart is key.

    Thanks for your thoughts, Jonathan :)

  • Sarah Kades says:
    December 20, 2012 at 4:51pm

    Thank you for writing this article. It strikes deep chords.
    Thank you,
    Sarah Kades

  • December 20, 2012 at 5:02pm

    Great blog, Jonathan, and so true. Only snag is trying to find my originality – or get back to it – we can’t do without editors, but sometimes the revisions demanded have your book ending up as the book the editor wanted to write. And if you want your book published … shrug…

    Another very good reason to Indie publish, I think.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      December 20, 2012 at 8:21pm

      Kaye. In my case the one person I always wait for with eager anticipation is an editor. (For BOTH books and TV scripts.) They always add value, make it better, see things from a greater dimension. I guess it depends on the editor. ~ Jonathan

      • December 20, 2012 at 8:32pm

        Good point.

  • Linda Viviane Lester says:
    December 20, 2012 at 6:56pm

    I absolutely believe in synchronicity NOW.

    2 weeks ago I downloaded your Bestseller Labs Guide for Authors, but didn’t even open it until last night. Read it ALL quickly as the proof for my BLOSSOM, A Flower’s Journey, in children’s book format, but written for EVERYONE “who has ever been frightened by change”, is being printed by Createspace for delivery in 2 weeks.

    I thought I needed to get a web-page created and fast for marketing, but with your emphasis on social media, I decided to work more on what I already have going: Facebook Page and Linked-In, and to open a Twitter account. But that’s JUST the tip of synchronicity! This morning I received your The Secret Every Author Can Learn From ‘The Hobbit’ Movie email. Good info and insight, but I learned you live in Auckland, NZ. My son lives in Wellington. You loved the Hobbit, saw its lessons for writers, and suggested visiting Middle Earth. My son is an animator and is part of the creative team who worked on The Hobbit. I’ve been wanting to connect with you since I saw your first email, but who am I to contact you? Now I discover we’re ALREADY connected! I do hope you get this comment and we don’t have to continue relying on synchronicity – though it works incredibly well. Maybe you can Link-In with me and LIKE Blossom’s FB page.
    Linda in Reno, Nevada, USA

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      December 20, 2012 at 8:17pm

      Linda. We’re all connected. I’ll find you on LinkedIn and yes, I’ll also locate ‘Blossom’s’ FB page. And, re Animation; I’ve been involved with it for years. I directed the first 3D animated TV commercial made here – The ‘Bluebird Skiing Penguin’, which was copied in the US and spawned the whole ‘Happy Feet’ craze. So do let me have a contact email or mob # for your son.

      ~ Jonathan

  • December 21, 2012 at 12:17am

    Thanks for the insightful post. I’m working on my first novel and will be true to my own imagination and be an innovator.

  • December 21, 2012 at 12:25am

    I’m happy to see your romance mention. It’s already very difficult to earn credibility in a genre where it seems the general belief for most is that the only scenario is boy meets girl, boy gets girl and it’s happily ever after for them. This then leads many romance writers to push for originality, but they can’t seem to ignore what’s hot-selling. Many friends and colleagues bemoan the fact their projects from the heart may not be “trending” at the moment, so they try and write the next best 50 Shades… This doesn’t always have the happy ending.

    Thank you for the post. I’m taking it as a reminder to write what I love. And I can hardly wait to see the Hobbit! It simply seems like the perfect thing to do around the holidays.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      December 21, 2012 at 5:10am

      Gabriella. Entirely agree that in most instances, chasing a trend does not end happily. It’s delicate balance between what sells and what one likes to write. That is the challenge. By the time a trend is hot and visible everywhere – it’s already over. e.g. Try writing about an English boy wizard … or Vampires that sparkle…

  • Paul says:
    December 21, 2012 at 2:55am

    I think that originality comes from delving into what you don’t understand more so than from delving into what you love or enjoy. It’s from discomfort and struggle that I find my best writing. Also, if you’re intentionally trying to be original, then you’re going to fail. The first step toward writing from your heart and finding your voice, is writing. There’s no real “secret” to it. Tolkien wasn’t “trying” to be original.

    Once you stop looking for it, it’ll find you. At least, that’s what I’ve come to realize. I’m still very young.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      December 21, 2012 at 4:53am

      Paul. I see we have a classic semantic difficulty here.

      Regarding: ‘What you don’t understand’ being a better source of originality than ‘Delving into the things you love’: The fact is they’re one and the same thing. I’ve found that the phrase ‘What you love’ is constantly misinterpreted to mean it’s all known and fully understood. On the contrary, it does not mean there’s no mystery, as if there’s nothing left to learn. Instead you love the discovery of it all as it continues to unravel and reveal itself just as Tolkien experienced. If it didn’t, you’d soon stop loving it.

      “…These are the interests that we’d continue to pursue and learn about.”

      And no, Tolkein definitely wasn’t ‘trying’ to be original. If he’d ‘contrived’ to be original it would never have worked. As I said, his success came as a complete surprise to him. He just wrote from the heart and took a voyage of discovery into what he loved. This is pretty much the point of the entire article. That’s why certain phrases have bolded sections. The ‘deep interest’ of delving into the unknown and discovering. e.g.

      “By delving into the mysteries of his deepest interests and fascinations…”

      “The truth is that when professor J.R.R. Tolkien was writing his tales, he didn’t just chase a trend, but wrote his unique Middle Earth stories based on his own interests.”

      Re the ‘discomfort and struggle’ you mention, the same applies:

      “He struggled to finish his epic novels and it took him 7 years to write The Hobbit, while continuing to teach at Pembroke College, Oxford. But he managed it, largely because his deep interest in the subject sustained him through difficult periods.”

      I can see that in fact you already have these realizations re writing, and that you’re going to do very well. Keep in touch.

      ~ Jonathan

  • December 21, 2012 at 5:39am

    Indeed originality is the key. Since Tolkein was born in South Africa – I gain inspiration from that too. However I cannot help but observe that many of the true originals were prophets in their own countries and only became famous long afterwards and invariably their recognition fell on dead ears. ( sorry about the mutilated metaphor.) Oh by the way – Happy Mayan Apocalypse day 12-21-12- ~{;-) since the Antipodes saw the day first I reckon its safe to say they made a mistake in their math?

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      December 21, 2012 at 5:46am

      Don – I suspect that living in South Africa and then England broadened Tolkien’s horizons greatly. And it’s gratifying indeed to know that he was celebrated within his lifetime.
      ~ Jonathan

      PS. There are a few hours to go here until day’s end and Mayan doomsday strikes. After which I shall enjoy a Latte and write another blog post.

  • Elisabeth says:
    December 21, 2012 at 1:09pm

    Great blog post

  • Andrea says:
    December 21, 2012 at 9:47pm

    This reminded me of a quote from Tolkien’s friend C.S. Lewis:

    Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.

    While it’s debatable what “truth” actually is, but when I write my stories I try to tell my own truth and I write what I want to say. I have no idea if that will ever get me successfully published, but if I can’t write and stay true to myself, I’d rather not write or be published at all. :-)

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      December 23, 2012 at 5:33am


      Quoting you. “….if you simply try to tell the truth without caring twopence how often it has been told before you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it..”

      Perfect. There’s no point in TRYING to be original, that will produce the exact opposite.

      ~ Jonathan

  • December 22, 2012 at 12:17pm

    […] Words of Writing Wisdom […]

  • December 22, 2012 at 3:29pm

    Thanks for writing this. Too frequently lately I am seeing authors attempting to write for the market. I believe following your heart and what you know is the best way to go.

    I haven’t seen the movie yet.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      December 23, 2012 at 5:35am

      Susan…. yes indeed, and DO see the movie. Let me know what you think. ~ Jonathan

  • Manoj K Srivastavaa says:
    December 23, 2012 at 5:48am

    Thanks, Jonathan. I am writing erotic fiction and have created a trilogy, Bargains and compromises, Vol-1 “End of Innocence”. This I have published as an eBook, I don’t know if I am on the right track or not. But I love to write about erotic fiction with strong heroine oriented characters.
    I wish to thank you for this lovely piece of advice.

    Manoj K Srivastavaa (Makusr)

  • Zee says:
    December 27, 2012 at 10:36am

    This article comes at a brilliant time for me. Just re-watched the first LOTR series and was blown away by the utter mastery of Tolkien’s vision of the genre. At creative writing classes we were often made to try out different genre’s of writing but there is no doubt about it that time and time again it was certain types of stories that always turned out much better for me.

    Writing is a very selfish art, but it’s that very nature of self-indulgence that often makes a novel really good. Budding writers often forget that they too are also readers; the very first reader that they should satisfy should be themselves (within reason). Any other way makes for a very forced narrative that is painful to get through.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      December 27, 2012 at 8:47pm

      Zee. This post is ‘two sided coin’ – the two sides of the same point.

      Side 1) Follow your fascinations, things for which you have an unquenchable thirst, that you constantly want to know more about. Originality will flow from this.
      Side 2) Avoid chasing a trend that is in full flood – because if it’s everywhere it’s probably over. (e.g. ‘Vampires’)

      Both are equally important. ~Jonathan

  • December 27, 2012 at 6:01pm

    […] reminds us that when writing we should cannibalize everything we experience; Jonathan Gunson says the secret to success is to follow your own deepest interests when deciding what to write; and Kurt Vonnegut’s daily routine may inspire you in […]

  • January 3, 2013 at 7:22pm

    Excellent article. Succinct and to the point. Getting into the world of fantasy writing and trying to write something original is so difficult. Correction… it’s not the writing part… but more the marketing aspect. Originality doesn’t always sell… but if you love what you are doing and you write for yourself, then perhaps someday others might find it enjoyable as well. Tolkien’s words are very helpful. Thanks for this!

  • January 26, 2013 at 11:20pm

    Can’t agree more about writing from your passion and experience. I can only write if it comes from that place, that’s the main part of my creative drive. My first book CONTACT was a memoir and so of course it’s about my experience but it became a best seller partly because of the subject matter and partly because of how honestly I shared my experience of combat. My fiction books now also come directly from what I am most passionate about – DRY TORTUGAS is a father-daughter story that seems to resonate with readers and their own lives, AN UNQUIET AMERICAN is based on my experience in military matters, the intelligence world and my passion about history, politics, democracy and ethics and how they have shaped the world. I have been told my characters have a greater immediacy, richness, my stories more depth because of the personal experience that backs them and the passion from which they are written.

    It took me a long time to find my own “voice” in writing and to have the courage to express it, but I can only say to any new author – it’s worth finding that voice – it’s inside you, its what moves you, what makes you angry, sad, what makes you laugh ….. the written word – like music, art, movies – has its own rhythm, its own way of touching people’s souls. With so many authors with so many different “voices” we can create a wonderful array of reading material for readers and transport them into another world – how exciting :) i couldn’t think of a better profession!

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      January 27, 2013 at 3:36am

      AFN. Rich contribution appreciated. Writing from the heart is drawing from your deepest wells. It shows.
      ~ Jonathan