Writing Lone Wolves Or Inkling-like Writing Communities


At one of my first Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference, I asked a particular writer I respected if that person was in a critique group. “No,” came the answer, “I really don’t have the time.”

On another occasion, because I had learned and grown so much through the on-line critique group I belonged to, I challenged an editing client to get involved with a group so that person could receive feedback other than mine. Again, the answer was, “I’d like to, but it just isn’t practical with my schedule.”

As I peruse recent fiction releases, I find it interesting to read the acknowledgments page. Some writers thank everyone from the teacher who taught them to read to their current editing team and every writing group they’ve belonged to in between.

Others include no acknowledgments page.

I think of these latter writers, like those who admit they aren’t part of a critique group, as writing lone wolves. They have minimal web presence, don’t show up in writing communities or at writing conferences, either as teachers or conferees. They may still sell books, though, and may be skilled writers.

The other group seems eager to engage fellow writers and industry professionals. They want to swap “how to” information, exchange prayer requests, answer questions, cheer even small victories, and offer that analytic eye that tells an author if he’s on the right track or not.

Is there a right way or a wrong way to go about this writing business?

I’m thinking about this for several reasons. First, years ago when I heard of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Oxford group of writers that came to be known as the Inklings, I wanted the same thing. How great to sit around a pub, reading your work and getting feedback from some of the great minds of your era. It sounded so magical. How could they miss becoming great writers in that environment?

More recently, however, two very different sources have me thinking about the subject again. One came via Fred Warren’s Spec Faith article “Scouting The Competition.” In that post Fred discusses what Mormon writers are doing that has vaulted many of them into the ranks of published science fiction or fantasy writers.

As required reading for anyone who wanted to comment, Fred linked to “The Class That Would Not Die,” an article that gives the history of a movement started at BYU that brought a number of Mormon sci fi and fantasy writers into community.

A couple days later, in response to articles by Jeffrey Overstreet and Jonathan Rogers, Sally Apokedak wrote an excellent post about self-promotion versus loving your neighbor.

Obviously self-promoters are still in community (they have to have someone to whom they are promoting), so they wouldn’t exactly fall into the lone wolf category. Or would they?

Some lone wolves, it would seem, are predatory. They are more interested in their work, their progress, their successes, with little interest in “giving back.” They begin most comments, “In my article (book, blog post, interview, podcast, trailer, tour, book blurb, Tweet, etc.) …”

Other lone wolves really are alone. They resemble writers of old, tucked away in a patron’s loft, where they worked day and night to eke out subsistence wages. And they like it that way — except for the subsistence wages part.

Some of these writers take the stand that they are artists, not promoters. Others believe God has called them to write books not Facebook updates.

On the other side of the planet there is the gregarious bunch — those who have to force themselves away from social media to get back to the task at hand, because if truth comes out, they are perfectly happy talking about writing whether or not they ever publish a thing. These writers have no problem joining critique groups or writing associations. They love to attend conferences and join in writing discussions with frequency.

As I look at this, I see admirable qualities in the lone wolf who sticks by conviction and works with diligence despite minimal feedback. I also see wonderful qualities in those who freely give to other writers with no return expectations. They are generous with their time because they love helping. They are the ones who love their neighbor without thinking they have come upon a good promotional strategy.

But then there are those predatory wolves — not so admirable. Sometimes they don’t operate alone, either; they work in packs. Which makes me realize gregarious writers are just as susceptible to becoming one of them as the lone wolf is.

Honestly, the writing life seems filled with traps. I see only one way through:

Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God (Phil. 4:6).

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