Monday, June 22, 2015

Lessons Learned from the Inklings

By Shirley Raye Redmond
CS Lewis & Aslan

In recent years, the successful Lord of the Ring and Chronicles of Narnia movies have won J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis a legion of new fans. Tolkien and Lewis were members of the same writers group—known as the Inklings—for more than fifteen years. Lewis usually hosted the Thursday night critique sessions in his rooms at Magdalene College.

“Jack made things seem larger than life,” Walter Hooper, Lewis’ former secretary told me some years ago when we met in Oxford. “Everything had more meaning around him.”

I learned a lot about Lewis and his writers’ group during that hour’s chat. The Inkling weren’t really the stuffy Oxford dons one might have imagined them to be. I also got an inkling of what it takes to ensure the success of a writer’s group.

(1) The Inklings had specified goals. They knew what they wanted to write and why. They shared info about publishers and they networked. Each member was committed to professionalism.

(2) They had a commitment to craft. The Inklings had phenomenal publishing successes because they mercilessly polished their prose. Their bestsellers are still selling today. Lewis’s The Last Battle won the prestigious Carnegie Medal for best children’s book of the year when it was released in 1956. His commitment to craft has paid off for decades.

(3) Last but not least, they had synergy. This word is generally defined as “cooperation” or “the working together of two or more parts to stimulate new ideas that result in greater productivity for all the parts.” Synergy promotes the originating of new ideas and their fruition. The members supported one another all through the brainstorming, writing, revising and marketing aspects of one another’s work. For instance, when The Hobbit was published in 1937, Lewis wrote glowing reviews of Tolkien’s book for a wide variety of publications, including The Times Literary Supplement, and was instrumental in ensuring the success of his friend’s book.

The Inklings met twice a week—socially on Tuesdays at the local pub and on Thursdays for reading and critiquing at Lewis’s rooms at the college. They brought with them their best intentions. John Wain, one of the younger members, once described the Thursday night meetings with fond fervor, declaring, “The best of them (the critique sessions) were as good as anything I shall live to see.”

Do you belong to a supportive writing group? If so, what do value most about the group?

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  1. How fabulous to learn of the connection between Tolkien and Lewis. Love the picture of C.S. Lewis in his dressing gown.

  2. Interesting and fascinating post. Thanks!