When I lived in Merrillville several years ago, I joined a writer’s group. Each week, a group of 10-15 of us would bring essays or short stories and read them aloud to each other. I was new to the group, and actually, they were new to each other. Occasionally, someone would offer a valid critique, but usually we sat around and looked at each other, saying things like, “Nice characters,” or “I liked the introduction.”
The leader of the group was a published writer who sometimes offered helpful tidbits. She once told me that I needed more description of my characters. “I don’t know what they look like,” she said.
“I don’t either,” I probably told her. I’m not really a fiction writer. I just shared short stories with the group because I was too self-conscious to read out loud the real writing I was doing. The one week I did work up the nerve to read an essay about my moral dilemma to help homeless people while living in Chicago, one of the older men told me I was naive.
That was the last time I read any of my real writing in the group.
Working creatively in community probably does mean I need to let people read what I write. Developing this blog over the past few years has brought me a long way in my reticence to share my work. But what else?
My friend Amber and I met over dinner last week and bounced ideas off each other. She asked me to solve her narrating problems, and I asked her to show me how I could write full time. But we also asked each other real questions: what are you working on? What are your goals? What are you reading to help you grow as a writer? We’re going to participate in theHighCalling.org book discussion of Luci Shaw’s Breath for the Bones: Art, Imagination and Spirit: A Reflection on Creativity and Faith together, and we plan to talk about what we are reading.
Ann and I also trying to figure out what a creative life together might look like. She’s married and home schools her four children; I am single and work full-time. But we each have a desire to write and do it in the context of community. So last week, we spent the afternoon together.
The first three hours we had lunch. It was a long, lingering lunch in which we discussed a hundred things besides writing. But almost without fail, the topic would come back there again and again. So by the time we hauled our laptops to a nearby coffee bar and set up shop over hot tea and a white chocolate mocha, writing was only natural. We worked a couple of hours: I wrote a blog post, Ann did some research. We talked along the way; we shared what we were working on.
When it was time to go and we were packing up, we wondered about the productivity of the day. Did we write well together? Would we want to do it again?
It wasn’t exactly like JoDee’s writing retreat, which she wrote about and depicted so beautifully last week. We didn’t have a whole week in a mountain home in Colorado. We didn’t see deer grazing out the window. But we did spend our afternoon writing, brainstorming ideas, sharing stories, eating, and exploring, just like JoDee and her friend. And we did get the same taste of what it means to do our creating together with the same goals in mind:
The most precious take-away I left this mountain retreat with was a renewed appreciation for the generous nature of God. I don’t need to have all of the answers concerning my future direction as a writer and artist. Today my heart fills with the wonder of creation and gratefulness for the blessings I received, JoDee wrote.
Ann and I might have gotten a lot more writing done if we had not spent three hours on lunch and did not keep interrupting each other over the laptop screens. We might have gotten more writing done, but we would not be better writers.
For that, we need each other.
What about you? Who are you collaborating with? What does it look like for you to create with people?
Interested in writing in community? Here are some ways to join others in online writing projects:
*TS Poetry is working on writing sestinas in July. Sestinas are a type of form poetry with six stanzas of six lines and repeating end words. I started a sestina about vacations, but it was too much work! I think I will try again on a less relaxing topic. Sestinas are challenging, but worth the effort.
*Join Bonnie Gray for her Thursday JAMS as she throws out a topic and invites her readers to write in community, with link ups and every thing!
Go THERE, (JoDee’s “A Writing Retreat”) and then come back HERE again!
Join me for regular jaunts around The High Calling network, randomly visiting fellow bloggers, soaking up their words and ideas, and then coming back here to write about them from my perspective.
Each Thursday, consider going “There and Back Again” yourself. It’s simple.
Photo by by rocknroll_guitar, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.