C.S. Lewis is one of my favourite writers. I love his Narnia creations, and his books on Christian faith (most notably, Mere Christianity and The Problem With Pain) were instrumental in bringing me to Christ. It was, however, his writing in A Grief Observed that most spoke to me. Though losing a wife and losing a mother are ultimately different; loss is ultimately the same and Lewis’s honest writings about sorrow helped me. And re-affirmed my conviction that books and story—fiction and non—are crucial helpers to us humans as we try to figure out how to live and what it mean to be, well, human. It’s not giving Lewis too much credit to say he’s one of the reasons* I started writing again.
But it’s not really C.S. Lewis I want to write about today. It’s his Inklings—a writing group that, from what I’ve gathered, consisted of twelve or so members (including J.R.R. Tolkien). I won’t embarrass myself with the romantic view I have of the bunch holed up in some pub, corner of a library, or ancient book and antique laden reading room. I won’t confess that thinking of them, I always feel the warmth of a crackling fire glowing from a grate and see it casting looming shadows of the literary greats along the walls—shadows that grow as their stories did, well into the night. And I won’t admit that I’m sure they always drank port—its scarlet red shimmering as firelight refracted off the crystal glasses containing it—cheers! And of course there’s cigar smoke. And equally of course, somehow said smoke is sweet and mellow and doesn’t make me gag or give me a headache just being in the same room with it.**
Oh, how jealous I was of his writing group! And then I got to be part of my own—a smaller group, though, I think, not lesser for being less. We try to meet in person once a year or so (and usually manage to, thanks in part to the huge pull of SiWC—but it’s tricky as we hail from different parts of B.C., and now, London, England), and we meet online regularly in a private forum called Procrastination (which makes us Procrastinators now, doesn’t it?). We drink lots of tea and coffee—and only occasionally port. I do have a wood fire that warms me—or at least the living room near me. We all have tonnes of books—or at least read tonnes of books. I don’t smoke cigars, but can’t speak for the others in the group.
I wish I lived in a place where we could all be together, at least monthly, but I can’t complain too much because I live in a time where despite huge geographical differences, we can still maintain very close relationships and share our words in real time, almost instantaneously.
It has been said that C.S. Lewis would’ve written and published all that he did without the Inklings (and the same has been said of Tolkien), and I suspect that may be true—at least partially. I think his writing community was a huge help to him, creatively and emotionally and practically.
The writing life can be a lonely, misunderstood and alienating (except when it’s the glorious opposite of all those things!). The writing craft is daunting—you only master one thing to notice six other problems you’d never even thought of dealing with. And the publishing world? Well, let’s just say it’s always been rife with tales of doom and gloom and the end of books and reading—not the happiest news when one’s trying to eke out a living with their words. Meeting with kindred spirits who like you, who like your stories, who are kind and funny and compassionate—even while they’ll straightforwardly tell you what is and isn’t working with your stories—keep you keeping on.
In James W. Miller’s review of Diana Pavlac Glyer’s The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community, *** he says that, “using a formula for determining influence created by another scholar, Karen Lefevre, Glyer analyzes the way the Inklings served as Resonators (encouraging voices), Opponents (thoughtful critics), Editors, and Collaborators (project teammates) for one another. She then adds her own fifth category, that they were Referents who wrote about one another and promoted one another’s books to publishers and the public.”
When I read that description, I thought, Egad—I’m so lucky! I have the good fortune of being part of a community like that too.
How about you? What is your writing community like? Are you part of a writing group? Does it have a name? Is it a face-to-face group or an online one? Do you feel there’s an advantage to either type of meeting?
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* Well, him, Stephen King, and Julia Cameron—bwahahahaha, what a combination! I wonder what on earth they’d think of being grouped together?)
** I don’t know if I ever stumbled across this picture and description before I googled, “c s lewis inklings pictures,” but apparently my imagination was well fed!
*** A book I haven’t read yet, but that’s totally on my list now that I’ve read fifteen or so reviews about it.