The Inklings and Deliberate Practice (and a happy 127th to Professor Tolkien)
Yesterday was JRR Tolkien’s 127th birthday, and I did pause to toast the professor.
The father of high fantasy is my most significant literary hero and has deeply influenced my thinking about stories, faith, books, and life.
And, turns out, community.
This is an odd thing to hear myself say. I’ve taught and talked about community for most of my career as a pastor/missionary type. Rare have been the moments when the talking and teaching became a real experience. Nevertheless, it’s always been important to my thinking and is a personal value, even if my experience has been negligible.
But community is more than a church thing.
It’s a human thing (which is why the Church should be showing the way better than anyone).
The gathering of the Inklings is most likely morphing its way to mythical, legendary status as time moves well-past the days of Oxford professors reading and discussing their unfinished fiction with a port and pipe smoke.
It’s been about 70 years since the last meeting. I’m quite certain those of us who look back on those gatherings see them through an overly romantic lens.
But here’s the lesson for me:
Creativity is never developed in a vacuum.
I recently finished reading the book Peak: Secrets from the new sciences of expertise. One of the key takeaways is the idea of deliberate practice. We do not get better through 10,000 hours of mindless repetition of tasks that have been hard-wired into our mind and muscle memory.
We get better by doing things that intentionally stretch us, getting feedback, making adjustments, and stretching again.
For the Inklings, the community was the feedback and the stretching.
Today we have more opportunity for this sort of connection than ever.
It’s sad that we (I) don’t take advantage of those opportunities more often. If we did, I wonder how much ground-breaking, genre-bending, beautiful and valuable work we could make if we abandoned the “solitary artist” stereotype and began creating in community.
The Inklings didn’t just meet together to drink port and smoke pipes.