It was my capstone project, the summing up of my English degree, the story of a little girl who wandered off alone, crossed into the cursed tangled grove and couldn’t find her way home. In the light of the flaming sword and shadow of the forbidden tree, she stumbled upon an injured boy and a wrinkly lady, themselves trapped in paradise lost. These three would soon circle up, each using peculiar gifts, to help one another find who they were meant to be and where they were destined to journey.

I liked the concept, but the written story turned out pretty much like my first-try butterscotch pie, runny and overly sweet. Along with the creative (or not so creative) writing, I did my required research on the children’s literary world, present and past. As I gleaned wisdom from the most famous “faerie” tale tellers, I found myself wanting a penny to throw in the wishing well. They had what I needed to get better at my craft. They had a committed writing community.

The Inklings, this group of thinkers, readers, and writers, met regularly and spurred each other on in penning down some of the most beloved works of the twentieth century. In her short biography on the group, Emma Plaskitt affirmed: “ The importance of the Inklings as a literary society—albeit an informal one—in its effect on the writings of Tolkien, Lewis, and Charles Williams should not be underestimated. One of Williams’s best novels, All Hallows’ Eve, was improved as a result of suggestions made by the group. Encouraged by Lewis’s enthusiasm and suggestions, Tolkien too pressed on with his imaginative cycle of myth and the resulting trilogy, the mammoth Lord of the Rings, went on to sell millions of copies in over forty languages. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia have also enjoyed enduring popularity and have become classics of children’s literature.”

It wasn’t that I didn’t have writers in my life, but none of them knew one another and there was no consistent time set aside for brainstorming ideas, workshopping words and sharing connections to help the work reach a wider audience.

Last year, a whole decade after finishing my undergrad, I walked alone into my first-ever writers’ conference. I had prayed many times that my solitary craft would find community, but here was a place full of people that may as well have had headphones in their ears. I scanned the room for an approachable soul. And there in the back of the room was a pair of eyes that I recognized. I smiled bashfully at this acquaintance, certain she wouldn’t remember me, but I re-introduced myself all the same. She had recognized me, too, even in this completely different context a decade after our college days.

I asked Amber for the nitty-gritty on how God had changed her life and turned her into a justice advocate and published author. She, too, had prayed for camaraderie in her writing life. And here we were watching the answer materialize.

The conversation continued loud through breaks and quieted to a whisper during workshops, especially the one about the Inklings and how we might start our own writers’ group.

Others joined in that weekend, a teacher I remembered from my days working with English language learners in the public school system. Barb had been keeping journals for years, but now felt the nudge to write beyond herself. Devotional author and online magazine editor, Kelli, chatted with us when she wasn’t leading her sessions. Another avid blogger and online editor, Charity, chimed in from across town to say that she was in. And my songwriter friend Sarah has joined us as well.

Since then, we’ve shown up the first Thursday of every month, same time, same cafe. We spend a good amount of time chatting and catching up because we are people, not just writers. And isn’t relationship the raw material of the writer?

We take turns bringing a piece to workshop. The writer takes in the feedback (with no defensiveness): what we all think the piece is getting at, what we love, where the story lost us, what we want to see more of. Some offer ideas for tightening up the phrasing or cadence. The editing eyes among us offer suggestions for grammar and punctuation. We share our connections and find each other new opportunities for sharing our work. We cheer each other on when one among us has another article accepted or submits a manuscript to the publisher.

This December, we celebrate one year of writing together and seeing many members’ works go from jumbled idea to published piece. I feel so at home with these ladies that I  feel just about brave enough to lay The Tangled Grove on the table.

{Are you part of a writers’ group? If not, which like-minded writers could you invite to form a collaborative with you? What expectations will you establish to ensure healthy interaction and time well-spent? How do you feel about online writers’ groups as compared to in-person groups?}

This is Day 22 of my series 31 Days ~ Preserve Your Story, linking up with The Nester’s annual 31 Days of Change.

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