I bet you know exactly what I’m talking about. I may only be a writer, but I bet all creatives know the feeling.
If you’re anything like me, you have dozens of notebooks and Word documents filled with old ideas that never made it off the ground, snippets of scenes that got discarded, and characters whose names you may not even know. And I’m willing to bet you have at least one that you keep going back to.
You know, The Idea?
No matter how many other stories you finish, you keep going back to that one half-crazed idea. Or do you? Maybe it keeps coming back to you, like the ghosts that haunt people in those old horror movies. And maybe you keep pushing it away because even when you try to work on it, it doesn’t really take you anywhere.
Enter J. R. R. Tolkien.
I know I talk about Tolkien a lot on this blog, but I’m going to tell you about him again, because he’s my favorite author of all time. LotR is my favorite book, my favorite movie, and contains some of my favorite characters. You could for sure consider me a Tolkien geek (and yes. I know Elvish.)
Everyone knows that The Lord of the Rings is one of the most well-known, most quoted, most memorable classics of all time. But how much do you know about the man behind the story? Did you know that it took him twelve years to write it? Not counting the time he spent perfecting it? Did you know it started out as a sequel to The Hobbit, but ended up being a sequel to The Silmarillion? Did you know that he kept giving up on it, but found that he just couldn’t get away from it?
It is written in my life-blood, such as that is, thick or thin; and I can no other.-J. R. R. Tolkien
Obviously I can’t get into Tolkien’s mind, but to me, it seems like this idea haunted him. It followed him around, and no matter what other things he wrote, he couldn’t get away from it. Even when he tried to write it – and kept trying – it didn’t work.
Or does that make the finally finished story that much more beautiful? You decide.
But no matter how inspiring Tolkien is, we still have a problem. You have an idea and it won’t leave you alone. What should you do?
Well. Unfortunately I can’t read your mind. But if your idea is tugging on your heart this strongly, then maybe it really was meant to be, and it’s not just your Muse being annoying.
Can I tell you a secret? I have one of those ideas. It’s been haunting me for years. My notebooks are filled with many failed attempts at it, and vows to never come back to it.
And then, one magical day, I found the right story to go with it. Pretty fun, right? And I did end up finishing it. It was finally a complete story. So now I can finally let it rest, right?
That’s the bad thing about these ideas. They never leave you. Even after Tolkien published The Lord of the Rings, he couldn’t let it rest. The land of Middle-earth was forever his true homeland, and that other idea he was working on – the bigger idea, the idea which LotR came from – was still in his heart. It never left him alone.
And I suspect it will be the same for me. And the same for all of us. But don’t let it get you discouraged. In the words of Tolkien himself (and don’t bug me about how I’m totally taking this quote out of context):