Recently I read Bandersnatch: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings by Diana Pavlac Glyer. It’s a quick read on a well-trod topic, but Glyer takes an interesting and more difficult angle by investigating if and how the conversations at Eagle and the Child actually shaped and changed the works themselves — could she find evidence that Tolkien decided to add in this character, or subtract this scene, because of feedback from the group? That Lewis changed his opinion on this theological point after a vigorous debate? I enjoyed her research and the fun literary and historical detective work.
(Spoiler alert) She does find evidence of Inklings shaping some of the best-selling final works. It’s exciting to read as a lover of those books, and it also raises another interesting angle of exploration: the writing group itself. Glyer takes some time to examine why the Inklings were so successful as an informal, personal writing group. The members were highly respected in their intellectual fields and as a whole produced a lot of material, some immensely popular and some critically acclaimed. Participation in the Inklings clearly contributed to members’ success, and Glyer looks at how.
Her analysis is really instructive for anyone who wants to write seriously. (And here is where my insides squinch from longing.) The Inklings was a group of dear friends who all loved and respected each other and had a common interest (writing about theological ideas). They met weekly (sometimes twice a week) and were all motivated to produce works-in-progress (WIPs) and use/honor the time they had together. They cared about each other’s works, enthusiastically encouraged one another, and dove deeply into how they all could help make the WIPs even better. They had raucous debates and drank many beers. What a dream, to find a group of intelligent, similarly-interested friends who want to help each other succeed at that thing they all love to do.
So to build your own Inklings, all that’s needed is to:
- Be committed to the craft and habit of writing
- Find other writer friends who love and respect you
- Meet with them at least once a week specifically to talk about ideas and dissect WIPs
- Be enthusiastic and encouraging of the writing and the writers
- Drink many beers (or, you know, just share food and drink, whatever your mileage)
Right now I have #1 down, have some potential candidates for #2, have no chance of #3, am really good at #4, and (not to brag but) am kind of the bomb at #5. #3 really is the hold-up, and that makes me sad. Graduate school is a wonderful placeholder of sorts, as it provides the “raucous debate” atmosphere, but there is no real philia there. There is not nearly the same kind of affection and mutual concern for the others’ well-being that makes the friendliness of the Inklings so effective and enjoyable. Maybe there will be better opportunities down the road, especially once hubs and I are a little more settled into our old-person lives.
It’s certainly something to hope and plan for in the future. After all, the Inklings were meeting well after they were old farts! I STILL HAVE TIME.