Writers, follow your own star and dream big

‘Dream no little dreams, for they contain no magic’.

I don’t know who said this first.  (I read it on the side of a memento coffee mug from a RWA conference and it was provided by Vicki Lewis Thompson.)

I just know that it is a phrase that is speaking to me at the moment on the subject of writing.

It came to mind yesterday when I saw the girl, who is on school holidays, spend a good couple of hours creating a personal translation key for the runes in The Hobbit.  I’m pretty sure this would have pleased its author.

When J.R.R. Tolkien sat down to write the Hobbit he could not have had any idea that they book would be as popular and enduring as it turned out to be. If what I read is true, he never intended to be a novelist.  He only wrote the stories to introduce people to the mythology he was creating.

Yes, that’s right, J.R.R. didn’t set out to write a book.  He set out to create a whole mythology for a country (England) that he felt lacked a proper one.

What a completely mental thing to try to do.

No one in their right mind would say this was sensible.  They might say it was hubristic (although from what I have heard of him, I think it was more altruistic).  They might say it was an impossibly large undertaking.  It would require the invention of languages (yep) and races (yep) and music (yep) and complete ways of life (yes again).  They would say that he would never get to the end of the task (true), that it would be a life’s work (indeed) and that people would think he was crazy (probably).

They might also say that no-one would read his book, no-one would care, that he’d never make any money from it and that all that work would moulder in a drawer unseen and why didn’t he do something useful like teach another class or go for a walk?

Maybe people did say that.  But guess what? They were wrong.

Attempting to be a creative person is not a sensible undertaking.  You are trying to make something out of nothing, which sounds crazy.

When you begin, whether it is your first tentative steps into creation, or a new project when you have been creating for years, you don’t know if you will be able to finish.  You don’t know if other people will like it, or if it will make money for you.  You don’t even necessarily know if what you’re setting out to do is what you will end up doing.  You may not be at all clear on where you’re going.  Tolkien didn’t set out to be a novelist, yet if he hadn’t written the novels, all his wonderful work on languages and civilisations may well have languished in a drawer, unseen.

It can be terrifying stuff.

But I’m here to say you should do it anyway.

Get in that creative boat and strike out for a strange shore and see where it takes you.  Dare to dream of a new world.  Be fearless.

Okay, not fearless exactly.  If we feel no fear, we probably aren’t working hard enough, probably not pushing ourselves enough.  If we aren’t out of our comfort zones, we aren’t putting our hearts on the line.

But if you are a creator, whether you’re a novelist, a short story writer, a poet, a painter, a singer or a performance artist, don’t let the fear hold you back.  Feel the fear and do it anyway. Go balls to the wall, face to the foe, leave it, as they say in dancing, all on the floor.

You don’t have to create a new mythology.  You don’t even have to want to.  You might ‘just’ want to entertain people; to lighten their load for a while.  To share a laugh, or a story of hope and love and happy endings.  But maybe that story will be the one that lifts the heart of the person sitting through a loved one’s illness.  Or maybe it will catch the imagination of a young person, who will go on to change the world, nourished by your creation.  You can’t know that it won’t.

Because when you give it all you’ve got and create from the heart, you will touch others’ hearts.  And that touch could mean everything to them.

Creating isn’t ‘sensible’.  It’s difficult and time-consuming and it will probably never make you rich.  But it makes the world a richer place.  So go, make something.  Weave us a dream.  The world needs them.


The image on this page was provided by FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

12 thoughts on “Writers, follow your own star and dream big

  1. Congratulations on your 100th post! Imelda, I feel you have written this post just for me… I’m drinking each one of your words. I read your post yesterday but I was running around and couldn’t comment. Thank you for being so generous and encourage people who have a dream to follow it.

  2. Lovely post Imelda and so spot on. We do need people to dream for dreaming is a powerful mechanism.
    For what ever reason Tolkien wrote he wrote what he was passionate about and that’s what made those books brilliant and still does.

  3. Pingback: Look! It’s a writer challenge – so show me what you’ve got! | Wine, Women & Wordplay

  4. The quote is from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men.” It was most likely translated from German.

    I can’t find the book or essay where he says this, so if someone knows… 🙂

    • Celia, thank you! I’m very glad to have a source for that quote and for the purposes of this post at least that translation is even better. Isn’t that what we want to do? move hearts? Thanks for stopping by!

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