Do you write like J. R. R. Tolkien? C. S. Lewis? Or somewhere in-between?

Do you write like J. R. R. Tolkien? Do you write like C. S. Lewis? Or are you somewhere in-between? Which of these do you relate to?

1. I like to write in a noisy, busy environment, like a Starbucks.
2. I get my best writing ideas when I talk about my ideas with other people.
3. I love to revise my work over and over. It’s so hard to let it go….
4. I usually have a lot of different projects going, and I like to switch back and forth between them.
5. My best writing is late at night, in quiet, focused blocks of time.
6. If an editor or publisher or teacher asks for a revision, I feel like a failure. It is painful to be forced to revisit an old project.
7. Sometimes I doodle or play with page layouts or design title pages or work on cover concepts rather than actually writing my book.
8. When I get frustrated, I just scrap the whole thing and start over.
9. I work out ideas (even specific phrases and word choice) in my head before I actually write anything down.
10. I agonize over the details and, to be honest, I’m never really satisfied with the work that I do.

Answer key coming in next week’s post.


QWERTY Has Moved

Yep, it’s true. QWERTY has moved to a brand new location. You can read QWERTY updates as part of my new website: 

Things are in transition right now. The moving truck has left the driveway, but there are boxes piled high and walls that need a coat of paint, not to mention pictures to hang and furniture to rearrange.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how things look, and what can be done to improve the site. Thanks for being part of it!


Family unloading boxes from moving truck (Stock Image 1785R-2584 © Kablonk)Family unloading boxes from moving truck (Stock Image 1785R-2584 © Kablonk)Family unloading boxes from moving truck (Stock Image 1785R-2584 © Kablonk)

Oxford C.S.Lewis Society

a glorious time in a glorious space

a glorious time in a glorious space

My sabatical travels have ranged far and wide. One of my best trips was a short visit to Oxford last February. While I was there, I spent most of my time at the Bodleian, studying Tolkien materials.  

I also presented a paper to the Oxford C. S. Lewis Society. Officers Brendan Wolfe and Judith Tonning offered a warm welcome.  It was really a lovely evening, and I was both enlightened and encouraged by this remarkable group.

I used the occasion to offer my first formal presentation of some new research on Warren Hamilton Lewis. Warnie stands in his brother’s shadow, and his legacy has been marred by his well-known struggles with alcohol. But there is so much more to know about this man: a fine writer, a gracious friend, a key member of the Inklings. I have been studying his letters and look forward to writing more about him.

If you are interested in C. S. Lewis, I urge you to support the work of this Society:

When Projects “Hatch”

chicken, basket, bookshelf

chicken, basket, bookshelf

Several months ago, I wrote about my ceramic chicken, the one I use to store projects that are on hold. Sometimes I am waiting to hear from a publisher, sometimes a piece is just plain stuck, sometimes I need to gather additional materials, sometimes another deadline interrupts. Sometimes I just give up. In all of these situations, I find it helpful to put the project in a flat basket on a bookshelf, and set a large ceramic chicken on top.

Yep. I really do. It serves as a visual reminder that sometimes things just need a little time. Even though I am tempted to fret or feel discouraged, when I see that a project  under the chicken it helps me to remember that it’s not over, it’s not hopeless, it’s not ruined, it’s not wasted. It’s just not ready yet. It needs more time.

The hardest ones for me to deal with are those projects that have gathered up a stack of rejection slips.  When I am trying to pitch a book, I usually start with a list of 20 or so preferred publishers, then I put them in order of preference, then I print out a list of addresses and prepare a stack of envelopes, then I print out two copies of the proposal.

A rejection letter comes in; a new cover letter gets printed and slipped into the next envelope and a new proposal goes in the mail to the next address on the list the very next day.

But sometimes I run out of addresses. That’s what happened in the case of my devotional book “Clay in the Potter’s Hands.” Stacks of rejection letters, hours of pitching it at writers conferences, all kinds of trouble and nary a nibble. So that particular book manuscript has been sitting under the chicken for a very long time.

Today it hatched.

Here’s how it happened. I am working on two scholarly articles at the moment, one for a conference and one for a book. Both are due in a couple weeks. Today was a writing day: Wake up, take Sierra to school, come home, sit down, write, write, write, pick Sierra up from school.

The day was going great. Until I got to the “write, write, write” part. It wasn’t exactly writer’s block. It was more like writer’s restlessness. I didn’t mind sitting and writing. I just had absolutely no juice whatsoever for the projects I was working on.

I pushed words around for a while, took a walk, pushed, fiddled, did some laundry– hey, if you’ve ever written anything, you know just what it looks like. Except underneath the “I don’t wanna write” part there was another part that whispered, “I DO want to write. I just don’t want to write THIS.”

In frustration, I looked under the chicken, saw the pottery book, pulled it out, sat down. And started writing.

The whole process of re-reading and re-vising was so fluid, so alive, so engaging, so exciting. I was late picking up Sierra from school because I was having So Much Fun. I lost track of time.

A publising plan, a timetable, and a thousand and one other decisions are waiting in the wings. I’ll get to them. Later. For now, I’m having an absolute blast watching as this new hatchling breathes the breath of life. And feeling the profound privilege of being present as it does.

Talking with Joy Curry at WETN

I have a love/hate relationship with appearances on talk radio. I love the energy and spontaneity of radio, love the chance to interact with listeners, love to talk about the things I am passionate about, like C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien, and creativity, and community.

On the other hand, not everyone who knows how to host a dynamic radio show knows what to do when a guest is in the studio.

Enter Joy Curry, host of the morning show at WETN, 88.1 FM and  She’s got a voice built for radio: lively, versatile, thoughtful, quick, sparkling. I talked with her on the air this morning, and she did everything right.

In setting things up, she kept in touch, answered messages promptly, gave sterling directions on where to meet and how to prepare.

When I arrived, she was warm and welcoming. She was ready to talk about my book, but even more, she had prepared music and introductory material that was beautiffully suited to the occasion and the topic.

On the air, she managed to walk that fine line between substantial content and light-hearted entertainment. And she made it all seem effortless. She was well-prepared and also open to new directions. She immediately found the heart of the topic and kept the conversation on track.

Hats off to Joy Curry and kudos to WETN.  Folks in the Chicago area: you have a real jewel in your midst. I feel blessed to have been a small part of it.

Check it out:

Hooray for Newport Librarians

Back in August, a blog hosted by the librarians of Newport Public Library in Newport, Rhode Island, published this review essay. I love this kind of overview, and I’m just thrilled when libraries notice  The Company They Keep.  Kudos to Meg, who made this clear, helpful info available to readers! And thank GOD for librarians.


The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien’s thrilling fantasy about Frodo, Gandalf, Aragon, a giant spider named Shelob, a Dark Lord named Sauron, Orcs, Elves and Dwarves, increased in popularity when director Peter Jackson created his now famous film trilogy. At the same time the movies were being produced, scholars, readers and fans were busy, too, writing about Tolkien and his fantasy masterpiece.One of the best books written recently is The Company They Keep by Diana Pavlac Glyer (2007). She talks about Tolkien in the context of The Inklings – a group of Oxford professors and other writers (including C. S. Lewis and Charles Williams) who met on a regular basis to read to each other and give and accept criticism and suggestions. Not only is this a really good portrait of the Inklings, but Glyer also sheds some wonderfully original light on the collaborative nature of the writing process, and how none of these writers would have written as they did without the support and help of the others.

By far the best biography of JRRT was written by fellow Englishman, Humphrey Carpenter, entitled simply – J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography. This was published originally in 1977, but reissued in paperback in 2000. Carpenter also edited The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien and reading Tolkien’s letters (especially the ones that he wrote while he was creating The Lord of the Rings) provides a fine portrait of what he was struggling with as a writer and what he was trying to express with his fiction.

Tom Shippey is often considered one the preeminant experts on Tolkien and his works. Two of Shippey’s best are J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century (2001) and The Road to Middle-Earth (2003).

For a more spiritual take on Tolkien’s writings try either J. R. R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth by Bradley J. Birzer (2002) or J. R. R. Tolkien: Myth, Morality and Religion by Richard Purtill (2003).

If you just want one book that brings together many of the essays about Tolkien and his most famous work, check out Understanding the Lord of the Rings: The Best of Tolkien Criticism, edited by Rose A. Zimbardo and Neil D. Isaacs (2004).

And finally, for a look at Tolkien’s heroes as compared to some more modern figures, try Return of the Heroes: The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter and Social Conflict by Hal Colebatch (2003). Meg

The New Writer’s Handbook, Volume 2

The New Writer's Handbook, Vol. 2

“It surprises and satisfies,” declares the cover, and it turns out the cover is right. The New Writer’s Handbook: A Practical Anthology of Best Advice for Your Craft and Career, Volume 2 is well worth your time.

I was concerned that the short chapters and multiple authors would mean shallow content and a bumpy ride. Largely due to the skillful editing of Philip Martin, the whole thing holds together very well. More than 60 short articles on a variety of writing topics are carefully grouped and sequenced. They are practical, clear, varied, and economical.

I tried a quick skim, and I found myself reading it instead. I thought I’d be restless, and I found myself immersed. I figured it’d be same-old same-old, and I found good information, strong voices,  and fresh perspectives throughout.

I should add that I contributed one of those short chapters, a look at Lewis and Tolkien as collaborative writers.

I like this book. I am proud to be part of this project.