Writers need good, personal support structures because so much of the work is done in solitude. Christian writers conferences, whether they are held online or in person, are part of this structure, as one receives training; exposure to different ways of thinking; critical review; advice from people with experience they lack; and, most importantly, relationships.
But another level of support is needed for experienced writers and is actually far less formal than conferences. As we all grow more and more “virtual,” it might be time to reemphasize the need for in-person, small, regular gatherings with creative colleagues.
In the old days, these meetings were called “having lunch” or “meeting for coffee,” in case you forgot about these types of human events. (Insert snarky emoji here.)
This concept has many examples from literary history. Christian writers might know about The Inklings, a group meeting in England in the 1930s and 40s, made up of C.S. Lewis; J.R.R Tolkien; and a number of other accomplished, mostly male writers. However, Dorothy Sayers was a frequent guest. They met informally, but regularly, in a pub.
Stratford-on-Odeon in Paris included writers like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein. During World War II, the location where they met was destroyed.
There were groups in New York City. The Algonquin Roundtable met regularly for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel for ten years until 1929. It included Harpo Marx, George Kaufman, and poet Dorothy Parker, among others. Another was The Factory, where Andy Warhol worked; frequent invitees included Salvador Dali, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, and Truman Capote.
The concept goes back more than two millennia. Socrates held informal meetings with students four centuries before Christ’s birth. There have been many more examples since then.
Today, some Christian writers groups meet regularly only to talk about life. But it needs to happen more often.
It is difficult to communicate the tangible benefits of getting together with other writers; but I know for sure, if you don’t, the experience of writing can end up a dry, unfulfilling exercise.
Maybe we consider getting together at writers conferences far too pragmatic. I get it. You paid money and carved out time to go to a conference; you have the right to expect great speakers, information, and opportunities to network.
But maybe a better schedule for a Christian writer event would look like this:
7:30-8:30 am – Breakfast
8:30-9:00 am – Group Devotions
9:00-10:30 am – Workshop on something important (only one)
10:30-noon – Sit around on comfortable chairs discussing the workshop
Noon-1:00 pm – Lunch
1:00-2:30 pm – Sit around the tables after lunch talking about whatever comes to mind
2:30-4:00 pm – Nap time
4:00-5:00 pm – Predinner walk with three other people
5:00-6:30 pm – Sit around on comfortable chairs chatting about things
6:30-7:30 pm – Dinner
7:30-10:30 pm – Sit outside on a lighted patio (dessert buffet important) talking about life
Days Two and Three
Identical to Day One (except for a different workshop)
If you aren’t intentional to make interaction otherwise, life can become programmed and “transactional.” Writing is an art form, and writers need something more than education. For that matter, so does everyone.
Often we are so concerned about being good stewards of our time and money we miss important things, like inspiring and encouraging others, which invariably inspires and encourages us.
Do the training conferences. Make the contacts. Give the pitches. Be critiqued.
But afterward, get together regularly with a group of people who do something generally similar or even complementary than you. You’d be surprised how much you can grow over time when you are together with people, with no agenda.