Tolkien, Lewis, Barfield, Williams … what did they have that I don’t? I’ve been reading the book, Bandersnatch by Diana Pavlac Glyer.1 I’m a bit jealous of the little band of writers, the Inklings. I don’t smoke, but I want a pipe. Beer is not my beverage, but I want to sit in the back room of The Eagle and Child, the pub the Inklings weekly met at where they raucously discussed their writing, often to the dismay of other patrons. Just as often, they met for tea at the home of C. S. Lewis where there was no one to disturb but themselves.
What did they have? Comradery. A haven to share their words. Bonded by their common struggles as writers, they read, bantered, stomped, praised, and encouraged each other to keep writing.
Glyer wrote, “There are two characteristics of strong creative groups: a passionate interest in the same things and a variety of personalities and diverse points of view.” (pg. 71) Glyer goes on to say that there must be a balance between encouragement and honest critique. She labels the perfect member of such a group a “resonator,” a person who cares for the writing but even more for the writer. “Resonators help innovators to make the leap from where they are to where they need to be.” (pg. 30) They understand what the writer is attempting to accomplish and desire more than anything to see them succeed. Tolkien and Lewis were definite resonators.
Writing is a solitary pursuit. Only the writer understands the intent. Hunched alone over our notepads and computers, we snaggle our words and graft them onto the page, prayerfully hopeful they will touch hearts. But we can’t know the true strength of our writing unless we are willing to share those words with another who will render kind and honest feedback. Our mothers don’t count. Neither does a stranger. One lacks honesty, the other an understanding of the writer’s heart.
Twelve members of the Inklings steadfastly met for almost twenty years. Weathering war and broken friendships, they left us with poetry, Christian essays, and stories that delight and instruct to this day. That’s what I want. I want their journey. How? Here’s some gleanings from Bandersnatch.
Glyer believes it’s possible to have what the Inklings had. Start small but keep at it, she says. The Inklings began with just two, Tolkien and Lewis. Over the years, they stayed focused on their writing and met often in weekly meetings and spontaneous get-togethers at the pub. They even planned walking tours across the English countryside, celebrations, and suppers, generously embracing the differences in one another. A member once said, “Our differences laid the foundation of a friendship that lasted.” (page 164)
Above all, Glyer says, when it is our turn to render feedback don’t silence the inspiration. “Learn to tell the difference between ‘I don’t like this’ and ‘This doesn’t have any potential.’” Hugo Dyson, a member of the Inklings, refused to critique Tolkien’s magnum opus, The Lord of the Rings. He dismissed it as unworthy of his time. I’m thankful Tolkien refused to be silenced. He was stronger than I would have been, earning him the nickname Bandersnatch by Lewis who wrote in a letter, “No one ever influenced Tolkien—you might as well try to influence a Bandersnatch.” (pg. 38) If not familiar with a Bandersnatch, read Lewis Carroll’s, Through the Looking Glass. Another suggestion of Glyer’s, give feedback with the understanding that it isn’t our role to fix what doesn’t work. When Tolkien criticized Lewis’ work, he pointed out what didn’t work and why. He didn’t tell him how to rewrite it.
I realize in this age of frequent relocations and pandemics, meeting in person may become impossible. I have relocated and miss the hugs and smiles across the table at Target where my ‘tribe’ of writers once met. Hence, the desire to join the Inklings. Ours wasn’t a pub. We drank coffee and conducted ourselves with decorum. But in those meetings, I learned to write. I learned to open my heart and share, and in the end garnered deep friendships and lasting writing habits. I still meet with some of the original writers. No hugs. They exist on my computer screen. But there are new faces in the group, new feedback and understanding. I hope that over the years we will look back and say, we read, bantered, stomped, praised, but more than anything, we encouraged each other to keep writing.
If you’re alone without a tribe of writers, read Glyer’s, Bandersnatch. You’ll be inspired and encouraged to take the step to find other writers.
1 Diana Pavlac Glyer. Bandersnatch: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings. Kent, Ohio: Black Squirrel Books, 2016.