Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What Churches can Learn from Writers Groups

Two years ago I decided to actively pursue writing. I got online and researched what my next steps should be. It became obvious that I knew next to nothing about what I was trying to do and it was imperative that I learn.

So I joined a writers' group.

In fact I joined two: American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Romance Writers of America (RWA). Both had local chapters that I got involved in as well: Writers of Remarkable Distinction (WORD, part of ACFW) and Georgia Romance Writers (GRW, part of RWA).

Best decisions ever. Having been fairly active for the past years, I've seen a few things I think churches could learn.

1. The ability to bond over a commonality

WORD is a fairly small group, but GRW is large. Often when I go to meetings I'll sit at random tables so that I can meet new people. One day I sat next to an erotic romance author. That's about as far from an Inspirational romance author as it gets.

[caption id="attachment_383" align="alignright" width="256"]Clasped hands Via Wikimedia Commons[/caption]

The awesome thing was that it didn't matter. We both loved writing and were able to talk about techniques and practices without getting hung up on our different philosophies of content.

Churches need to circle around a love of Jesus. It can happen. I've seen it. A pearl wearing grandmother talking missions with the blue mohawked teenager. They both love Jesus and that's enough to bind them.

2. Mentorship should be deliberate and encouraged.

One thing about my writers groups is that everyone in the room is at a different point in their career. Some have had books on the New York Times bestseller list. Some have thirty titles (or more!) to their name. Others have sold their first three book deal. Some have been writing a while but have no publishing credits to their name. Still others have little more than an idea an no idea how to get it on paper.

[caption id="attachment_313" align="alignleft" width="168"]Glass jar of sand The jar of sand gifted to me by my mentor. Read the story here.[/caption]

The beautiful thing about the variety of experience levels is that those further down the publication road have a passion to help those behind them. Published writers in my groups go out of their way to help and encourage those still trying for that first sale or even that first manuscript.

Mentoring is discussed often and programs are in place to help authors find mentors that can pull them along. The sharing of experience is welcomed and valued.

Too many times in churches, sharing experience is seen as either self-important or a sign of someone stuck in the past. We need to value those who have already learned lessons we are going through now. Yes, times changes and sometimes things that didn't work before might have a chance now, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't listen to what went wrong or right the first time.

3. Celebrate the Little Attempts as Well as the Big Successes

At wrieters' meetings, we cheer rejections. There is a time in each meeting for people to share good news. Good news is defined as ANYTHING that attempts to move your career forward.

[caption id="attachment_384" align="alignright" width="200"]Fireworks via Wikimedia Commons[/caption]

Got rejected by fifteen agents and a handful of publishers? HOORAY! It means you put your work out there.

Finished your first manuscript? YIPPEE! That means you're learning how to complete your story from beginning to end.

Managed to write 30,000 words in one week? WOOHOO! You're learning diligence.

Put something on paper for the first time in three months? GO YOU! You didn't give up.

If the church began celebrating the little things, embracing the failed attempts, and encouraging people to strive for more, I think we'd see a closer, more honest congregation. Instead, too many people put on a mask when they enter the church, trying their best to appear like their Christian lives are successful and meaningful, afraid to show the slightest crack.

So church, let's take a page from the writers' book. Let's learn how to love, encourage, and appreciate each other and become the true family of God.


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