Over ten years ago, I was invited to join a small group of Christian women writers who gathered once a year to pray, plot and play. Thankful and excited, I jumped at the opportunity. Writing can be a very solitary occupation, and I looked forward to the interaction with these amazing women of faith.
There are many benefits in joining or starting a group like this. I’d like to share some of the lessons I’ve learned:
- Limit the number of members
The larger the group, the less time available for each member. It is best to limit the size of the group, factoring in what kind of discussions you are going to have in a face-to-face gathering. Our online sisterhood has ten members. When we gather as a group, the first evening, each person has a designated time to share what has been happening in her life over the last year. We share triumphs and tragedies, struggles and goals.
One year, we did “living eulogies.” One individual had to remain silent and listen to each member of the group share how that person has impacted them. Each session was taped and given to the person as an encouragement to keep up the good fight. It is often harder for people to accept blessings like this than to give. It is a humbling experience to learn how others perceive you as a writer, individual and Christian witness, but it is also a great encouragement to carry on and persevere.
- Frequently communicate online – what is said in the group remains in the group
God created us for community. He created Eve to come alongside Adam. He created families and communities. We are not meant to be in isolation. We need other people in our lives. Writers are well-trained in sheltering in place, or we would never get any work done. But COVID has certainly made us more aware of our need for other people.
Thankfully, due to email, our group members are never beyond reach or out of touch with one another. Every one of us has had times where we have needed help, comfort, advice, strength, connection. We have walked one another through serious illness, death of a parent or spouse, wayward children, financial downturns, COVID, fires, approaching hurricanes, domestic and international travel challenges… You name it, we’ve walked with one another through it.
- Iron sharpens iron – improving our craft
During our summer sessions, we talk craft and brainstorm new ideas. One of the methods we use is “20 questions.” It always helps a writer to think deeply about each character, the storyline, theme, take away messages from the current WIP (work in progress). Questions help us do that. When we work alone, it is sometimes very difficult to see our weaknesses and how we might strengthen our work. We need to be open-minded and humble to grow as writers. That’s true in every area of life. We cling to our firm foundation in Christ; but strive to see others’ points of view so that we can reach a broader audience with the message of salvation and the love of Jesus Christ.
- Share triumphs and tragedies – the things of life
All through the year, the members of our group stay in touch and share the tragedies and triumphs of life. Every one of us has dealt with major challenges and the support from others is invaluable. The wonderful thing about interacting with other Christians, whether online or face-to-face, is receiving and giving biblical encouragement to one another. We all desperately need truth in this fallen world where we often feel under spiritual attack from all sides. It’s important to have friends remind you that the Lord is sovereign and point you to specific scriptures and similar historical biographies in the Bible that are instructive, uplifting, convicting and point the way through any storm in life. And we have been through storms that can shake and almost topple us!
- Work together to bring forth good fruit
Every year without exception, we can look back and see a body of work that has come out of our small group of writers. Ideas we brainstormed turn into books. Sometimes we’ll run into a problem in the middle of a project and put out a call to brainstorm online. Those who can gather on Zoom do so, and we talk through the story and throw out ideas with which to play. It is a creative festival! From those conversations, characters and story grow. And then, we see the other end of working with agents, editors, publishing schedules, marketing, even legal issues that may arise. We share in those challenges as well and learn from one another’s experiences.
- Start a year with a word from the Lord
Each member of the group prays for a word from the Lord – something that gives us a strong sense of what our focus should be for the coming year. These words don’t always come in the first week or two after the new year. Sometimes it takes months to realize the word God has given us. It’s also very interesting to put each person’s word together with the others to see what God might be saying to the entire group. The word always has a corresponding scripture, sometimes more than one. This word from the Lord is something we think about over the next twelve months. Some examples: gratitude, endurance, perspective, rekindle, rest. We seldom know what it is God is teaching us through our word until the end of the year. He is often preparing us for a challenge we don’t expect and for which we need preparation.
- Gather once a year for face-to-face sharing
The group has gathered every summer for seventeen years. It is a time to be face-to-face, start each day with devotions, singing and praising God. Then we have a specified time to present our story ideas and throw in ideas to build and improve the characters, plots, and take away value for the reader. After that, we play! Sometimes we go into town and shop, but most of the time we just “hang out” with one another and talk.
- Hold Zoom meetings when gathering isn’t possible
This year, due to COVID, we were unable to meet in person and have that special four days together. So, once a month, we have met on Zoom and taken turns talking about what’s been happening in our lives. It’s been an important and precious time to connect.
- Create a group closer to home
Being with these wonderful Christian women writers inspired me to become part of a small writers’ group at home. Six women had already started meeting and asked if I would like to join them. Absolutely! Yes! Thank you! Our leader’s husband passed away unexpectedly last year, and she asked if I would be willing to host the meetings at my home until she felt ready to host again. I agreed. She remains our leader of seven and I seat her at the head of the table. We each take turns with our projects, and we’re all working on different forms of writing from poetry to short stories, memoir to novels. Once a month we spend three hours together talking through our projects, encouraging one another and helping polish and refine work, usually sent out well before the meeting. We send material back and forth in between meetings as well.
How might this apply to you?
The church started with small home groups, and it can continue to grow and be strong now through difficult times like a pandemic. If you are not part of a small group, I hope you will consider starting one. God meant us to be in community, and small groups enable us to come together and remain connected as a family of God.
New York Times bestselling author Francine Rivers continues to win both industry acclaim and reader loyalty around the globe. She is the author of the bestsellingRedeeming Love, as well as its spinoff products, A Path to Redeeming Love: A Forty-Day Devotional, and Redeeming Love: The Companion Study. Her other bestsellers include A Voice in the Windand The Masterpiece. Her books have been translated into more than 30 different languages, and she has been featured in Christianity Today, Today’s Christian Living, CBN.com, and many other outlets. For more information, visit www.FrancineRivers.com.