Is an Artistic Community Right for You?

https://www.americamagazine.org/arts-culture/2017/05/18/meet-women-building-community-christian-writers

This article was written for America magazine by Judith Valente and it might be helpful in sparking ideas about the benefits of creating in community vs. going it alone. I remember standing in a receiving line before a wedding reception and the woman in front of me, whom I’d never met, asked me if I was in a Bible Study. I responded, “No, I like studying the Bible on my own.” In about ten minutes she explained why studying it in a group is more beneficial and she invited me to try it out. I’ve been in various Bible studies for the past 20 years because of her invitation and she was right it is better than studying it alone. The same may be true for you in your creative endeavors. Have you ever thought about joining an artistic community? Here’s some reasons why that might work for you. If you already have, please write me a note and tell me why it works (or doesn’t work) for you.

Note: One correction – I am not an “original” member of the Redbud Writers Guild as the article states. I believe I joined the Guild about five years ago.

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For the members of the Redbird Writers Guild, writing is not only a craft, it is a spiritual practice.

The original members of the group first encountered each other about eight years ago when they traveled from the Chicago suburbs to attend a Festival of Faith Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. In addition to their shared geography, they all shared a call to write.

They bonded too, says founding member Shayne Moore, over a mutual “love of Christ.” They also shared a common belief that writing with faithful trust can lead to transformation—their own and ultimately that of their readers.

The women of the Redbird Writers Guild shared a common belief that writing with faithful trust can lead to transformation—their own and ultimately that of their readers.

When they returned home to Illinois, several of the women met over a glass of wine. They kept thinking back to the redbud trees that were flowering then on Calvin’s campus with their bright magenta blooms in full spring splendor. “We thought, ‘This is a beautiful metaphor for who we are,’” says Margaret Philbrick, another of the guild’s original members—writers seeking to blossom.

Many beginning writers seek out groups where they can share their work and receive constructive feedback. Few of those groups might last as long or have as much success as the e Redbud Writers. Today, the guild has grown to include 150 members in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Australia. Their regular meeting place is no longer someone’s living room or a local café in the Wheaton and Glen Ellyn suburbs where many of the women live. They meet via Skype and converse through a private Facebook page, which female writers who also see their writing as a spiritual practice can apply to join.

“We see it as a way of expanding feminine voices in the area of faith and culture,” Ms. Moore says of the group’s aim.

The guild’s philosophy is simple: that women of faith have something important to communicate and they do that best with the support of community. The writers come from a variety of religious traditions, ranging from Catholic to Congregationalist, Presbyterian to Pentecostal. “We are Christian women, but we don’t get hung up on the individual core values of each of our traditions. There is unity in the essentials,” Ms. Philbrick said.

Redbud Writers
The Redbud Writers Guild. 

Most writing groups focus on how to improve a manuscript, find an agent or get a publisher. Redbud Writers care about those things too. But the art of writing is never far from their spiritual practice.

This is how Ms. Philbrick, a fiction writer and poet, talks about her creative process: “I want to have the life-giving Storyteller give me my words. So before I type or write a word, I have a practice where I put out my hands and pray that the Lord’s spirit will infuse me with his creativity and give life to what I have envisioned,” she says. “There is a faith component to my writing that makes doing it more exciting than me just grinding out chapters, going about my task.”

Community, not competition, guild members say, is the trademark of their group. Among the Redbud’s “Core Values” are respect for the feminine voice and a spirit of non-competitiveness.

“That last thing is what I think sets Redbud apart. We are really grounded in that spirit of non-competition. God’s theology is one of abundance and there is more than enough to go around,” Ms. Moore says.

“These manuscript groups are deep times of intimacy,” Ms. Philbrick says, referring to individual members who meet either on line or in person to discuss manuscripts they are working on. “I’m giving my heart to this group in sharing my work. You have to have a deep level of trust.”

The prescription seems to be working. About half of Redbud’s members have books out now, or significant other print publications. Ms. Moore is the author of two books, including Global Soccer Mom: Changing the World Is Easier Than You Think, which chronicled her work as an advocate for H.I.V./AIDS treatment and prevention.

Ms. Philbrick’s first novel, A Minor, came out in 2014, and she is working on a second novel now centered around a famous painting.

Would male writers be welcome in the group? Well, not exactly. “My sense of men’s writing groups is that they very quickly become elitist. Men are going to look for men who are like them,” Ms. Moore says.

“Women tend to be more comfortable than men are sharing in groups,” Ms. Philbrick says. “Women crave intimacy.”

The group aims to encourage emerging writers in particular. The choice of the word guild in its name is an intentional reference to Medieval guilds where artisans worked as apprentices with more experienced artists in order to improve their craft.

“Many of us are moms with newborn babies, getting up at six o’clock to write before the kids wake up,” Ms. Moore says.

Every Wednesday at noon, guild members stop whatever they are doing, wherever they are, and say a collective prayer. While most of the conversations take place online, they meet every two years for a writing and spiritual retreat at Techny Towers, a retreat center run by the Society of the Divine Word order outside of Chicago. Then the writing resumes.

The Massachusetts-based religious publisher Paraclete Press recently put out a collection of writing by Redbud writers, called Everbloom: Stories of Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives, edited by Ms. Moore and Ms. Philbrick. The two said they were careful to include writing from veterans as well as previously unpublished writers.

The anthology offers a snapshot of feminine life in the 21st century, or as Ms. Philbrick says, it reflects the many trains of feminine spiritual thought, like the outspread branches of a redbud tree. Topics of the reflections in the book range from living as an expatriot to the search for home, the loss of a child or a relationship, the suicide of a brother, the violent abduction of a relative, overcoming cancer and surviving rape. Each story ends, of course, with writing prompts to get both novices and veterans started on new work.

“I hope women who feel stuck grinding out the day-in and day-out routine, wondering what it’s all for, will pick up this book and get a tap on the shoulder from the Lord and see a bigger view of their lives and what it all means,” Ms. Philbrick says. “They just might see what God is doing in their lives beyond the cycle of grocery-shopping and feeding the children. I hope this book wakes them up a bit.”

From Back Patio to Bookstore Shelf – The Journey of a Book

Everbloom, Stories of Living Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives is the new book from Redbud Writers Guild which launches next week. How did it happen?EverBloom_Cover_04 On a sweet summer night in 2015 my hubby and I were sitting on the patio talking about the transforming work God has done in our lives which led to us chatting about how God has transformed the lives of many folks we know. He casually mentioned, “You know that writing guild you are part of must have some pretty incredible stories of transformation.” I thought to myself, yep and it would be fun to know some of those stories. The next night happened to be our quarterly Redbud Board conference call and at the very end of the agenda I threw out the idea that maybe we should do a book about how Christ has transformed us as writers. The response was milky, lukewarm as in “Hmmm, interesting. Let’s think about it.”

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The next day I got a call from Shayne Moore a.k.a. our Redbud founder, dynamo, powerhouse get- it-done kind of gal saying, “Let’s do the book. Let’s you and I write the book proposal.” It took a few months and then we sent it to our fab agent who shopped it around. We waited and waited, for months to hear anything. In publishing, if you don’t like to wait, then this business isn’t for you. A year after our first phone call, we learned that Paraclete Press wanted the book. Insert—— screaming, dancing erratically in the living room, taking selfies with Shayne, more screaming and then the real work began.images

I wrote my poem for the collection while sitting out in a fading September sun. Looking over the finished product, I cried realizing my deep gratitude for a community of women who truly, genuinely love the Lord and desire to serve him with their words. We solicited the whole Guild for essays and/or poetry to a tight turnaround if the collection would launch in the Spring of ’17. A small ocean of high caliber work flooded our inboxes which we took to the giant whiteboard in my classroom and sorted through. We love all these women, how could we say “no” to any of them? Fortunately, the final say comes from the publishing house editor which made our job a little easier. Most of the submissions I read while sitting outside, crying my way through several of them. Submitting to God’s work of transformation is painful. People die. Children get kidnapped. Suicide crosses our threshold. Miscarriages, again. Families break. The broad reach of media brushes these stories across our screens everyday, but when you know all the participants who’ve experienced them, you feel the pain deep down.

In about two months we completed the compilation and editing, then the Paraclete designers brought their art and beauty to the project. We know and trust their work. They designed my website and the Guild’s website and many of our authors’ sites and what is pure joy about Paraclete? They LOVE the arts and they LOVE Jesus. For the first time emails were coming in from “Sister A.” and “Brother B.” people who’ve turned their entire selves over to the Lord exclusively, as sons and daughters for life. Supporting our book with prayer and their talents is their first nature. What a gift.

So here’s a behind the scenes look at the folks at Paraclete Press  who made Everbloom come alive and our book trailer . We received gorgeous mugs and complimentary copies of the book, both of which I will give away on launch day, April 25th to the lucky winner who  answers this question via my Contacts page or in a comment below. And the question is…..How has your relationship with God enabled you to bloom in a dry and fallow season? Happy Spring!

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We’re All Spring Ephemerals

While walking my yorkie-poo this morning I spot these early harbingers. Tufting out of the last fall’s rotting leaves a sunshine nugget shoots forth, one blossom so tiny you could miss it. After looking right then left, I reach down beneath my big toe and pick one. A single winter aconite (Eranthis). Six transparent yellow petals surround a burst of stamen rays, all clustered together to protect themselves from what might be tomorrows predicted snow. They belong in the ranunculus family (my favorite flower), but they look like summer buttercups. Ephemeral – transitory, short lived. Like us.

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We’ve been admiring “Bobby’s winter aconite” since our kids piled into double strollers and headed down to our neighbor’s corner. All of us longing for a blast of fresh air and someone to kick their new spring ball. You know the ones Target keeps in corded cages that you wrench the ball free from revealing its pastel glory, knowing that in about a week, POP! MOMMY(sobbing, hitting). Winter aconite makes a yellow carpet in Chicago’s February sun. Our eyes stare at the vivid swath of ground level warmth after months of twiggy grey, white and black. Color, all too short lived burns our retinas with newness of life.

The single stem now sits in a tiny bud vase on my writing desk, actually a Sanbitter bottle from the grocery store. Lifting it for a sniff propels me through today’s writing projects with a dose of perspective. We are all Spring Ephemerals. Our lives start out every bit as fresh as this bud, no wrinkles, unfocused blue eyes, cradle cap heads in need of nurture by caring, mature hands. We unfurl, for good or bad. With grace we’re given our day to bloom. Our eighty years is an hour equivalent in the life of this unassuming flower. Yet despite its hiddenness, the silent beauty of winter aconite dependably bursts upon us, leading us into the full spectrum of color which is there for the taking every year.

“What is all this juice and all this joy?

A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning

In Eden garden.”

from Spring by Gerrard Manley Hopkins

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“She Was Always Looking Up”

The funeral I attended today for 20 year old Chase Froese helped me long for heaven. I didn’t know Chase well. She was in our daughter’s class growing up and in my limited view she was the sweet, pretty girl with a big brain. She earned the science award when they graduated from eighth grade, but now I know I can’t wait to hang out with her when I get there.

Her friends from high school and college presented stunning tributes amidst an ocean of floral wreaths on the stage. They talked about her free spirited adventurous side, how she would get them up to see the sunrise and present them with a question of the day, followed by another, “Why?” in response to their answer.  She was a philosophy major so that makes perfect sense. Her boyfriend thanked her for treating him so well and giving him one year of her life. He told us how much he loved her and managed to get though it all without crying. The thing I remember most was that she was described as, “always looking up.” While the other college kids hunkered down in their North Face jackets and walked across campus in subzero weather, Chase was looking up. She was a girl who enjoyed taking on the strong headwind, feeling its force with gratitude. More than just facing the elements, she walked through life looking up at Jesus. She was constantly looking up to him and for him.

I imagine as she was sinking into that frigid Lake Michigan water she was praying, looking up and he was right there with her. Knowing Jesus, he was carrying her to the other side, drying her off and cooking her fish for breakfast.

My deepest sorrow and yet gratitude to the Froese family for raising such an empowered by the Holy Spirit woman. May the rejoicing of angels comfort you as you mourn, dream and see the next sunrise. I hope when I get to heaven Chase Froese is my tour guide.

The Editor’s Mark

Happy New Year! The email finally came. It took four days of psyching myself up to open it. Change is inevitable and most of us do not appreciate change, particularly to our creative product. As I rolled through holiday feasting and festing, I nearly forgot about the impending hair pulling session that would ensue as I sat at my desk crying and screaming over the editor’s changes to my manuscript.

His cover letter spoke to all that was wrong without a compliment to ease my fear. As I read through the comments it seemed pretty accurate. In my heart, I knew the change from third person to first person in the last third of the book was a risky one. An editor who had worked through the manuscript with me to get it ready for submission to agents and publishers had asked me to rework it so that the entire story was consistently in the third person. Somewhat stubbornly, I chose not to revise that point of view issue. Buoyed by the fact that Koehler Books had accepted it for publication despite this inconsistency validated me. I knew best, perhaps. Now this “seasoned” editor had asked me to change it and there was no choice. They had bought the book and were preparing to deliver the best possible creative message to the public. Time to comply.

The redo from my end took about two weeks, but I spent five hours on chapter 25. In this critical passage, Clive, the main character, must face the ruthless piano competitors of the Tchaikovsky Competition by giving his own voice to the music. Grappling with Clive’s thoughts while he is playing coupled with what the audience is experiencing, proved to bring new insights into the life of his character. I was back on the stage with him again and I realized how much I’d missed Clive. The revising of that one chapter brought me so much closer to him, his heart and his trials. Yes, authors do get to know their characters as if they are real people!

Instead of pain, the revising process brought a collaborative JOY! This editor, whom I’d never met before, was strengthening the book through his artistic direction. I actually like the finished work much better than what was originally submitted. So, when you find yourself submitted to someone who knows better than you, trust them. Be open to what they can bring and pray like crazy for the creativity to accomplish all they ask.