Have you ever been romanced by the mythical image of the writer working in solitude while nestled comfortably in a remote woodland cabin? Those of us who write in the cracks of ordinary life with families, jobs, and busy schedules may find this image particularly compelling as we struggle to balance our lives with our writing work.
As you create space and learn to write within the boundaries of your life, you will learn that good work requires quiet, but it doesn’t require a complete removal from your life and the people in it. In fact, as your writing develops, you may discover that inviting others into your work can be a welcome catalyst for creativity.
A cabin in the woods sounds great, but creating in a community of fellow writers is even better.
At hope*writers, we believe writers flourish in community with one another, so we sat down to discuss this idea with author, professor, and Inklings expert Diana Glyer.
Diana has spent years studying the creative camaraderie between C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and their fellow Inklings. She shares what she’s learned from the Inklings about building a writing community, and gives advice for writers seeking to do the same.
The word “community” can mean anything from the folks at your neighborhood block party to a broad network of people with a common interest, like golfing or swing dancing. But not every community is as tight-knit or supportive as the kind that writers need, according to Diana. She encourages writers not to simply find a writing community, but to create a circle of support around themselves and their work.
“The more I dig into the lives of Lewis, Tolkien, and other productive writers, artists, and creative people, the more I see their creativity thrives when embedded in a circle of support and challenge and anticipation.”
Diana gives the relationship between these two storytelling masters as an example of what can be accomplished when work is created within a healthy, supportive writing community. When building your circle, she suggests finding people who:
There isn’t a singular way to create this kind of community. Our circles of support will look different based on the type of writing we do, the various stages of our projects, and each project itself. It’s important to learn to ask for what you need based on your current stage in the process or the type of project you’re completing. When you determine what you need, it can clarify who you’ll ask to join you on the journey.
As you build your circle of support, you’ll realize that certain people play specific roles in your life and work. It’s important to choose your companions with care, so that these roles are filled with people well-suited to them, and your needs are met.
When looking for supportive companions in your creative journey, you should consider whether or not you need practical help, a mentor, an editor, collaborators, healthy opposition, or a parallel play partner. You’ll be able to determine this based on a careful examination of your own needs.
It’s also essential to include those who resonate with your work and understand what you’re trying to do creatively. You need companions who can offer encouragement, which is directed at the writer, and praise, which is directed at the writing. A companion who can offer constructive, rather than destructive, critique is equally important.
How can you tell when you have a good critique partner? Rather than stifling your creativity, a good critique partner will make you feel as though you can’t wait to return to the writing desk.
However appealing the image of the cabin-bound writer working in solitude and emerging with a masterpiece may be, it’s not true to real life. We need the refinement and encouragement that comes from working within creative communities.
In summary, Diana tells us this: “We shouldn’t try to do it alone.” As a community of writers committed to helping each other grow, we couldn’t agree more.
Want to learn more about what to look for in a writing community? Click here for free access to our hour-long conversation with Diana, and take one step toward balancing the art of writing with the business of publishing.