“I will take the Ring,” he said, “though I do not know the way.” – The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
Frodo knew nothing of the world outside the Shire, except for the tidbits Bilbo shared with him. He didn’t know the depth of the darkness he would face or the weight of the ring he would carry or the deadly dangers that would stand as obstacles to his success. You can’t gain that type of knowledge through learning facts or hearing someone else’s account. You have to live it to gain practical understanding that changes you.
Frodo understood how much he didn’t understand, but he didn’t let it stop him. He knew he should be afraid, even if he had no experience with the evils he would face. He knew he had to get from Rivendell to Mt. Doom, but he didn’t know what paths would take him there. Though willing to go, Frodo knew success was next to impossible as long as he was on his own.
The others in the group knew it as well. Gandalf had been fighting this fight for years. He knew firsthand the perils they would face. Aragorn, Boromir, Legolas, and Gimli knew how to survive in the elements and how to fight. Some of them even knew how to lead and inspire those in their charge. Sam knew how to encourage Frodo in ways the others could not. Merry and Pippin’s roles in the group were a little less defined. They brought levity, which is always good. They added a new perspective which alternated between bringing trouble and opening eyes to truth. Everyone in the fellowship was needed for success to have its chance.
As writers we begin as Frodo. We understand the basic ideas behind writing and publishing. The passion for writing is there inside us, pushing us to take the next step. It seems like a great adventure, and we can’t wait to get started. We’ve heard of deadlines and rejection slips. We know an author has to be seen to gain readers. The process of editing our work to fit what the publisher wants makes sense in our heads. But we’ve yet to experience even one of these things.
We can take this journey on our own. We can stumble around hoping to land on the right path. We can be an army of one trying to navigate the journey from idea to publication to sales without anyone else. It can be done. People do it all the time. But at what cost?
What failures and setbacks were needlessly faced in the name of independence? How much unnecessary frustration and disappointment did they deal with on the way? Could the path have been made a little easier by the simple admission, “I do not know the way”?
I have been blessed with the opportunity to meet others on this publishing journey. Some are just starting out, and I may be ahead of them on this path. I can offer them encouragement from the small store of things I’ve already faced and learned. Some are right beside me in the trenches of trying to learn the ins and outs of marketing our first published series. We can encourage each other, learning together and sharing the weight of our struggles and joys of our successes. And there are some that are light years ahead of me on this journey. They know from experience the struggles, and they use their knowledge to teach and inspire others. They do this through conference workshops, blogs, and online courses.
My life as a writer has been made richer knowing the Merrys and Pippins who are coming behind me. I’ve gained strength from the Sams who are right beside me. I’ve grown and improved through the mentoring of the Gandalfs and Aragorns and the other characters in this fellowship of authors.
They would not be here for me, and they can not be there for you if they don’t know there’s a need. This amazing fellowship starts with a willingness to say, “I will follow this call to write, but I do not know the way.”