Have you ever heard of the Inklings?
As a writer and no doubt reader, it might ring a bell. Or it might not.
But back in the 20th century, there existed a group of writers who called themselves “the Inklings.” The group began between C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, who shared an apparent love of Norse mythology and poetry. As such, they hit it off right away.
Here’s how the official website of C.S. Lewis, CSLewis.com, puts it:
… and so they cultivated the habit of meeting on Monday mornings for beer and conversation. Lewis wrote about it in one of his letters: “It has also become the custom for Tolkien to drop in on me of a Monday morning for a glass. This is one of the pleasantest spots in the week. Sometimes we talk English school politics: sometimes we criticise [forgive the British spelling] one another’s poems: other days we drift into theology or the state of the nation: rarely we fly no higher than bawdy and puns.”
Eventually, they expanded their group to six men who would get together “to listen, to encourage, to critique, to correct, to interrupt and argue and advise.”
Somehow, I’m sure that their writing styles were up for critique and correction just as much as anything else.
Again, we’re talking about C.S. Lewis here – who wrote a series that’s sold over 65 million copies worldwide – and J.R.R. Tolkien, who’s sold much more.
Both men have distinct, intensely respected writing styles that have stood the test of fast-shifting decades. Yet they still sought out others’ opinions to strengthen what they wrote.
Like so many other writers in writers’ circles, they understood the following truth.
The best writers are willing to work on their styles.
As we’ve already discussed, your style is yours to claim, to own and even to flaunt. It’s a product of who you are: your likes and dislikes, beliefs and biases and personality. As well it should! But don’t let that authority turn into arrogance.
There’s always room for improvement or, at the very least, consideration of someone’s constructive criticism. So even after you become an expert in your writing, understanding how to showcase an excellent vision of what you want to present, be sure to listen to outside advice when it’s offered.
Who knows where either Lewis or Tolkien would have been if they hadn’t understood that truth.
Remember how I said on Tuesday that part of my writing style involves longer sentences?
My personality drives me to always want to be clear, leaving no room for misunderstanding or exception. Feel free to disagree with whatever point my final statement is. That’s fine. Just as long as you understood it as I intended it to be.
That’s also why I use dashes the way I do. Which, for the record, is far less than I’d like to. I so often feel the need to add in asides for clarity’s sake.
Now, sometimes long sentences and dashes are great. But there are many situations that call for something different or perhaps even downright opposite.
If left on my own, I probably never would have learned that to the extent I have. But fortunately, I’ve had friends, family and critique partners help me round out my preferences into something more appealing.
Sure, none of those critique partners have been C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien. And you’ll never be able to claim otherwise.
But our writing styles still deserve to be honed as much as possible at every turn possible. It’s for our own good.