Writing in Community: A Love Story
“I’m reading John Le Carre’s The Constant Gardener right now. Frankly, it’s making me feel more inadequate than I’ve felt in a long time.”
~ Elisabeth George, in her journal (after publishing twelve bestsellers).
Her story starts in the place all good fiction writers start—with a deep feeling of inadequacy, a certainty that she isn’t good enough. “Don’t even try to be a writer,” she tells herself, “unless you can come out with the next To Kill A Mockingbird.” She’s sure she wasn’t born with that kind of talent. She would never be a writer, as much as she wanted it. With a husband in law enforcement, his ever-changing schedule and three busy, energetic small children—that’s job enough.
Yet, the dream remains. The desire is always there and Becky Avella rediscovers it at the soggy bottom of piles of laundry, in between the layers of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, in the daydreams mingling with the cut-grass scent of parks and ball fields.
At one point, she reads James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure. The words say the skill of writing, writing well, can be learned. It’s as if a door opens. But can she create a life that will allow her to walk through it?
She discovers a group of young mothers from the local chapter of the American Christian Fiction Writers, who've begun a book and critique club. “Only, while the kids are out back playing,” one of the women explains, “and we’re talking over coffees, we’re talking about writing. The advantage of making it a book club reduces the pressure. We aren’t just talking about our own work and we’re studying the authors doing well in our genres.”
Still, the day Becky joins them as their latest member, she’s crazy nervous. She wonders, What are they thinking of me? Should I share something I’ve written, or not? Probably not.”
A few weeks later, Becky meets up with a couple of the women to write at a coffee shop. She sits at their table…and pretends to write. “I have my headphones on and I’m so distracted by the fact that I’m actually writing on my laptop in a coffee shop. There was so much going on…too many people, the music was too loud.”
But over the course of months, Becky begins to relax and to trust—God, her calling, and her community. They are a diverse group of mom-writers who inspire and encourage each other. This story is about just four of them, all with their own challenges.
Heather Woodhaven, with three children growing into teens and all the activities, needs and emergencies that inevitably arise. There is Becky, with a police husband’s ever-changing schedule and the single-mom life-style his absence can sometimes entail. Lisa Phillips, with one child still at home and a husband in full-time music ministry, which she also participates in and supports. Angela Ruth Strong, struggling to find enough writing time in the midst of nurturing a blended family.
They learn, over time, what works and what doesn’t. Becky discovers she’s a worse time manager than she ever dreamed. “I struggle so much with sitting down to write when I have a sink full of dirty dishes, or I have laundry, or I know my house isn’t Better-Homes-and-Gardens-ready. I think I’ve spent the majority of this year cleaning the house so I could sit down to write. I’ve spent all this precious time, when I could be writing, instead of cleaning the house while the kids are home. You can talk with your kids while you’re doing dishes.”
Lisa agrees. “I do sometimes write when my family is around, if I have a deadline and I need to work on a Saturday. My family is supportive of that. But for the most part, I can’t demand more time, because it’s not appropriate for me to demand more time." She smiles. "I learned to write as fast and as efficiently as I do now, because I cut my teeth on writing during naptime. Honestly, if I didn’t have kids, this would consume me. They keep me balanced.”
There are seasons in all their lives that demand writing take a back seat, even though the world and the voices in their heads are shouting, you have to make this a priority or you’ll never be a writer.
“There’s truth in that,” Becky says. “You do have to be committed or it won’t happen. But there are also those times, as a believing mother or wife, when I have to put down my right to be a writer because of the season my family is in.”
When those seasons come, the group prays through the inevitable bitterness that threatens. “We’ve had meetings,” Lisa recalls, “where we spend fifteen minutes talking and the rest of the time praying for each other…”
“And crying,” Heather adds.
”You’re chasing your dream,” Becky says, “and then you have to put it on hold for someone else’s needs, and that’s hard. But only the Holy Spirit can tell you when you’re being overly self-sacrificial and when it truly is a time to say, my family needs to be the priority right now.”
And over the years, the book group grows up along with the children, becomes a smaller critique group, and finally, this group of four romantic suspense writers. They call themselves Team Love on the Run. Through all the life and parenting and marriage and other jobs, they support each other.
They learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Lisa, the reluctant leader, speed writer, relentless pitch coach. Angela, the analyzer who makes them all dig deeper than they thought they could. Heather, the cheerleader. When we hit bottom and crash and burn and get stuck, we call Heather. Finally, there’s Becky, who they call their emotional barometer, the one who seems to have an intuitive understanding of story.
They start to get published. First Lisa, then Angela, then Heather.
Becky sits on a couch in Angela’s living room surrounded by the others the day after her first novel is released, one of more than twenty books to be published between them, with additional novels scheduled for release. They talk about their journey together.
“There was the practical aspect of working together,” Heather says. “The marketing of writing, once you’re published, is almost like a separate job. Working together takes away some of the stress and many of the unknowns in writing and publishing.”
“It’s also better for our readers. They have one place to go, one website, and have access to four of their kind of author,” Angela adds.
Lisa nods. “You give people one place to go, you split the load four ways, so theoretically, it’s more return for less work…and it’s more fun, being able to do this in relationship with other authors who are doing the same thing.”
Relationship—that’s what these writers mention over and over. The practical aspects of working together are far outweighed by the fellowship and support they’ve become for each other. It wasn’t always this way. Like any new relationship, writing in community can be awkward at first.
“This isn’t a relationship we fell into, it’s one we’ve grown,” Becky says. “I don’t think any of us thought, the first time we got together, that we were going to be able to be vulnerable, spill our guts and cry with these women.”
Heather agrees. “Story helps you break down those walls. When you share that love of story and hear how story impacts you in different ways, there is a vulnerability there that happens, and you start connecting.”
As a group of believers, the team is able to offer each other support that goes beyond the craft of writing. They have found, with Jesus in common, a depth of uncommon encouragement in each other. They write together, pray together, share family and parenting challenges, successes and inevitable rejections.
According to Becky, “We truly celebrate each other’s successes. Every project that comes out of the people in this group, well, it doesn’t have everyone’s name on it, but there is so much that has been invested by every woman here.”
“And we still get rejections,” Angela says. “And our families are really supportive, they try to be comforting. But when you’re a writer, it’s really easy to focus on the rejections—”
“Yes,” Heather nods. “You start to hear that voice, You’re a bad writer. You should give up—”
“But these girls get it,” Angela adds. “They’re the first ones I text when I get a rejection.”
“Or when I feel horrible because I haven’t gotten much done,” Heather adds. “Because my children have extra needs or my marriage needs some extra TLC—life gets in the way. But with these women, I know I’m not alone. I receive the encouragement and understanding I need, but then they also push me to get some words in, even if it’s only a few.”
“Sometimes, it is absolutely necessary to give a lot of time to parenting and marriage and church and ministry—that could easily take up all of our time,” says Lisa. “But I have an appointment with these women, and I have a spiritual bond with them.”
Writing together keeps them moving forward. Becky waves her hand, taking in the entire group. “I can honestly say, I would not be published without these women,” and they all nod. “I wouldn’t have believed it was possible.”
Earlier that morning, Becky participated in a blog site interview about her just- released book and her writing life. One of the questions: What have you learned that you wished you’d known from the beginning?
She’d responded, “I didn’t know how important it was to find community. I am so blessed to be a part of an amazing writing group. When Lisa invited me to join them for a critique meeting, I didn’t realize what a gift she was offering me. I wouldn’t have made it this far without these women. We pray for each other, brainstorm together, compete for word count, and just support each other in general. They make the writing life more joyful.”
When she’s reminded of her statement, Becky smiles and nods. The others tear up, and the Kleenex box appears as if by magic.
Becky is proud of her first novel, but she knows it’s just a beginning, a place from which to grow. “I had to learn to set my pride aside and be vulnerable enough to put a piece of me out there into the world. I’m not Harper Lee. This is just a good story that hopefully people will enjoy and that can glorify God. I’m so thankful I have a community of people who keep me grounded, help me overcome my fear of failure or of not being good enough, get my dream and understand my passion. They help me to enjoy offering the Lord the best I have, now.”
Writing Without A Wife Takeaways from Team Love on the Run
Connect with other writers in your style or genre.
Communities of writers are vital for accountablility, inspiration and support.
It takes time and sometimes experimentation to create a good critique group. If you don't succeed the first time, keep trying.
Becky Avella grew up in Washington State with her nose in a book and her imagination in the clouds. These days she spends her time dreaming up heart-pounding fiction full of romance and faith. Becky married a real life hero and follows him around begging him to give her material she can use in her stories. Together with their children, they make their home in the beautiful Northwest. Her first novel, Targeted (Love Inspired Suspense), released April 2015.
Becky is also the author of the non-fiction book, And Then You Were Gone. After four miscarriages and two failed adoption attempts, she is no stranger to loss. Today she celebrates a healed heart and a joyful life. It is her passion to point others to that same healing.
Heather Woodhaven earned her pilot's license, rode a hot air balloon over the safari lands of Kenya, assisted an engineer with a medical laser in a Haitian mission, parasailed over Caribbean seas, lived through an accidental detour onto a black diamond ski trail in the Aspens and snorkeled among sting rays before becoming a mother of three and wife of one. Now Heather spends her days celebrating laughter, adding to her impressive list of embarrassing moments, and raising a family of aspiring comedians who perform nightly at her table. She channels her love for adventure into writing characters who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances--whether running for their lives or battling the insanities of life.
A British ex-pat who grew up an hour outside of London, Lisa Phillips attended Calvary Chapel Bible College where she met her husband. He's from California, but nobody's perfect. It wasn't until her Bible College graduation that she figured out she was a writer (someone told her). Since then she's discovered a penchant for high-stakes stories of mayhem and disaster where you can find made-for-each-other love that always ends in happily ever after.
Lisa can be found in Idaho wearing either flip-flops or cowgirl boots, depending on the season. She leads worship with her husband at their local church. Together they have two children--a sparkly Little Princess and a Mini Daddy--and an all-black Airedale known as The Dark Lord Elevator.
Angela Ruth Strong studied journalism at the University of Oregon and published her first novel, Love Finds You in Sun Valley, Idaho, in 2010.
With movie producers interested in her book , she's decided to rerelease it and write sequels as a new series titled Resort to Love. This Idaho Top Author and Cascade Award winner also started IDAhope Writers to encourage other aspiring authors, and she's excited to announce the sale of her first romantic suspense novel to Love Inspired Suspense. For the latest news or to contact Angela, visit www.angelaruthstrong.com. (http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/faithmediaandculture/2012/07/mpi-to-bring-popular-love-finds-you-book-series-to-television.html)