What Does “That’s Deep” Mean?

“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was a light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.” — J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

When Peter read that passage from one of his favorite books, he paused for a moment and processed the words on the page. On the surface, it was merely describing what Samwise Gamgee saw and how it made him feel. 

Through the cloudy gloom, up upon the mountains, he saw a white star — and that star gave him hope because it shone through all the darkness. 

Yet, there was something more. Something underneath the literal. To which it made him say out loud, “Wow… that’s deep.” 

But what did he mean? Why did that passage out of the thousands of passages in the trilogy stop him? Or better yet, how did it stop him? 

The phrase “that’s deep” when we hear it in a literal sense, sounds like someone’s talking about the ocean floor. While that might sometimes be the case, what Peter meant when he said that’s deep was that the writing was profound. So in order for us to understand what makes something deep, we must understand what makes something profound. 

The word profound has many definitions, but the one we will be relying on is this one: going far beneath what is superficial, external, or obvious.

Yes, Sam Gamgee saw the star — but it was what the star represented that made the passage profound. It was so beautiful that it smote his heart and even looking at all the destruction, he had hope. Perhaps we have all been where Sam Gamgee was — not literally, not Mt Doom — but we have all been in a situation where we felt as though we were ready to surrender. There were moments where we felt hopeless.

Peter certainly did. He was neck-deep in student debt and looking for employment in the entertainment industry. Of course, the world was not looking for another filmmaker, and any project he wanted to get off the ground was consistently met with rejections. He was in the clouds on the dark tor, ready to quit. 

But the star, a light of high beauty can never be dimmed by the shadow. The shadow in Peter’s world was the debt. No matter how deep he falls into debt, his love for filmmaking and storytelling will never die. The star was his passion and when looking up upon it, he remembered the feeling he got when he premiered his first student film in high school. The audience laughed and cheered. It was what he loved doing. It made him happy. It fulfilled him. It kept him warm and made him feel as though life, his little life, was worth living. And that life — that will to live — hangs so high above the debt, that he knew poverty would never make him hate his passion. For he was living for his passion, not for his debt. 

He closed the book and placed it to the side. Peter, filled with hope and inspiration, his white star visible through the darkness, goes and picks up his camera and starts filming. He didn’t ask for permission. He didn’t ask for a budget. He didn’t go get approval or a permit. Like Sam, he’s focused on the twinkling star and not on the forsaken land beneath. 

For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was a small passing thing. 

We all have a Shadow — a capital problem that follows us — but Tolkien doesn’t make it obvious, he layers it with imagery and symbolism. 

Imagery is vivid and descriptive language. It creates visuals in the reader’s mind by appealing to the senses. In this case, sight: “There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while.” 

Symbolism is the use of characters, settings, or objects to present an abstract idea. It holds hidden meanings and requires some deeper thinking to identify. In this example, it was the star and the Shadow. “For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was a light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

Of course, Tolkien didn’t have Peter in mind when he wrote the story. But by using imagery and symbolism, he was able to emotionally impact a wider audience and his writing has lasted generations. That is what profound writing can do. Profound writing transcends time and space. It captures what it is like to be human without ever stating the obvious, “here, this is what you have to do. These are the facts.” It lies not on the surface and requires the individual, with their own values and personal experiences, to dig underneath. And it’s the process of digging that makes a piece of writing deep. 

Is there a profound passage of writing that really resonated with you? I’d love to read it, so please share it in the comments below. And if you’ve enjoyed this article, check out these two other posts in the series:

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Improve Your Writing By Copying

Three weeks ago, I started my journey to type out The Great Gatsby. I remember reading an interview from Johnny Depp saying that this was something Hunter S Thompson did because he wanted to know what it would be like to write a masterpiece. Since then, I was eager to give it a shot, thinking that it would be an enlightening experience. As unpleasant as the current situation is, it had given me some extra hours in the week to put my anxious energy into a new project, so I decided, now is the time.

I’ve read The Great Gatsby exactly ten years ago and remembered feeling little about it. That goes to show how little I knew when I was younger. It was like listening to The Beatles’ Hey Jude and then going, “Who’s Jude?” I’ve missed the point. 

It takes practice in order to have an appreciation for craft, especially when the world is full of junk. Like food, after you limit the amount of sugar you consume, you’d begin to appreciate the complex flavour of vegetables. It’s a beautiful moment when that happens. The same goes for art. When we start noticing the qualities of a craft, we begin to see junk lacking in substance. 

I was confident there was something I could learn from copy The Great Gatsby, as there is copying any masterpiece, regardless of the craft. Learning by replicating is an effective way of recognizing the little details that make up a full piece. A great piece of writing, in the end, is just a combination of words. When you acknowledge each individual word, giving a real moment to type it out, you see each brick for what it is — a unique piece in a mosaic that is easy to miss when looking top down. I wanted to see everything Fitzgerald put into his story that I wouldn’t if I was speeding through it, as I did a decade ago… 

With all that in mind, here are six key areas of The Great Gatsby I wanted to focus on while I’m going through this copying process: 

Word choices: 

Vocabulary is to a writer as to what colours are to a painter. From descriptions to dialogue, I was curious to see all the words that Fitzgerald chose. Some, I’m sure, will confuse me and others will surprise me. When writing, I find myself using the same words over and over again — using colours I’m comfortable with — but by typing out every specific word in someone else’s novel, I’ll hopefully discover new ones and widen the spectrum of my vocabulary. 

Variety of sentences and paragraphs: 

When we read, we are absorbing information, but at that speed, we might miss the rhythm of the language — or at least not be conscious about it. By typing out a story, I will slow down the process of consumption and see the varying lengths of words, sentences and paragraphs. If this was music, I’d not only focused on the lyrics, but I’d also be hearing the tempo of the drumbeat, the harmony of the bass, and the cadence of the melody. I’d see how Fitzgerald draws out a detail in a long expository sentence or increases the pacing in a heated dialogue. 

The order of information: 

Good communication is the delivery of information in a coherent and logical order. Good storytelling, however, is the strategic reveal of details that increases drama and evokes an emotional response. A good story isn’t simply a sequential order of events: this happened and then this happened and then afterward this happened. No! Great writing is magic, because like magic, the principles are the same but instead of sleight of hand it’s with words: hiding, switching and misdirecting. By typing out the novel, I’m hoping to catch F Scott in the act and see what tricks he used to keep us turning the pages.  

Narrator and characters: 

One of the biggest challenges while writing is making sure your characters don’t all sound the same, so that in the readers’ minds, they are all individual people, with personalities, feelings, and beliefs so realistic that they’ll feel as though they’re sitting next to them. It’s certainly a challenge I have, so I’m going to be paying attention to the character construction while typing out The Great Gatsby and see how Fitzgerald helped us identify with Nick, Daisy, and Gatsby. 

Hidden details: 

When you are writing, everything slows down, you begin to notice each sentence, each phrase, and even every syllable. This aspect is fun because you feel a bit like an archaeologist or like the Tom Hanks character in The Da Vinci Code. You study the writing, like The Last Supper, looking for hidden messages and wondering whether the creator expected it to be there at all. 

Is typing out The Great Gatsby as valuable as a creative writing course? Hmmm… That’s a question for another time, but I truly believe that there is a lot to learn from this exercise. You will see how the story is constructed. Like a painting, you’ll experience each brushstroke. Like a song, you’ll be able to hear each note. Like a house, you’ll notice each nail, and that is what copying a piece of work offers you. Additionally, it’s a therapeutic activity, much like knitting, building a LEGO miniature, and solving a jigsaw puzzle. 

If you are interested in following my typing out the Great Gatsby journey, please join me via my YouTube channel every Saturday at 11am PDT. We can chat about all things writing and creativity, or whatever else is on your mind!

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5 Productive Procrastination Tasks for Writers

Sometimes, you don’t feel like writing. You’ve been sitting in front of the computer and nothing is coming out. If you sit for another minute, it’ll be another minute wasted. You resist the urge to scroll social media or clean the junk drawer, because that is, for sure, a waste of time, but what is there to do? 

Stop writing. That’s fine. 

Today might not be the day that you get a lot of words down, but that doesn’t mean it’s a write-off. You CAN procrastinate and still be productive. I’m going to share with you five procrastinating tasks you can do that doesn’t involve increasing your word count. 

1. Research

As a writer, there is always something to research whether it’s detail for your story, publications to submit your work to, or events or courses that you might be interested in attending. What I like to do when I really don’t feel like writing is to find a writing contest and spend some time reading the guideline — and maybe a few of the past winners and the works of the judges. In fact, I procrastinate using this technique so often that I have a whole blog post dedicated to writing contests, check it out, the link is in the description below. 

So give this a shot, next time you don’t feel like writing, look up places to submit your work. It might feel as though you are putting the cart before the horse, but I don’t, I feel this is a good way to understand the market, especially if your writing goal is to get published. 

2. Organize

If you’re like me you may have multiple drafts, multiple stories, and multiple submissions all up in the air. If you do, then this is a good opportunity to organize your folders and make sure you can easily locate the most recent draft of your story when you need it. The better you have access to your work, the more likely you’ll be able to find it and work on it. 

I have a spreadsheet with all my work in progress on it. I have their status (is it still in the works, is the first draft completed and I’m letting it marinate before returning for a second edit, or have I submitted it to a publication and am awaiting the result). I also include other details about the piece including word count and whether it is fiction or nonfiction. If you are using Google Drive, you can just add a link to the draft or the folder it’s in for easy accessibility. Staying organized had made my whole writing process so much more efficient, so I really recommend giving this method a shot if you feel like taking a break from actually writing. 

3. Consume

You should never feel guilty for taking a break from creating to consume, but that is only if you do it right. When I say consume, I don’t mean eating — I mean reading a book, watching a movie, or listening to music — in other words, enjoying something someone else made. And when I say you should consume it in a right way, what I mean is that you should do it actively. Approach it critically to find aspects of the work you like and dislike. Really absorb it so that you are able to reflect on it properly afterwards and record it so you can use some of what you do like in your own work in the future. 

Many successful writers will tell you that in order to be any good, you are going to have to read. Yes, you should definitely read, but there is certainly value in watching movies, television shows, and listening to music or audio books as well. This is if you do it actively.  

4. Revisit Old Work

Now if you really feel like punishing yourself for procrastinating, I recommend that you find a piece of work from your past and reread it. Approach it like you’ve never seen it before and enjoy it. It might feel like you’re taking a trip to cringe city, but there is always a lot you can get from this torturous exercise. 

First, you’ll get to see how your writing has evolved over time. The thoughts you had when you were younger might not be the same as the ones you have now. I like this because I get to see my progress. Second, if this piece is something that I gave up on, maybe now I have the ability to fix it and make it better. If I feel so inspired, I can take this procrastination opportunity to edit it, which would be incredibly productive. But don’t approach it with that intention, approach it as your ideal reader, not your critic. 

5. Be Creative

If the words simply aren’t coming to you today, but you still want to be creative, you can! Draw a picture, paint a painting, play an instrument, grab your camera and take some photos, film a video — there are many things you can do to still be creative and through those other artistic endeavours you do to see the world in a different way. 

After all, the way you show something in writing may be very different from a drawing. What I’ve been doing a lot of is trying to illustrate an idea I have. I’m not a great illustrator, but it takes my mind off of words for a bit. If you really want to get your creative juices flowing, that’s a really good way. 

There you go! Those are 5 productive procrastination ideas for when you don’t feel like writing. Are there any you are currently doing? Let me know in the comments! 

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