Dr. Diana Pavlac Glyer is one of the world’s leading experts on C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and the famed writers group they created – the Inklings. No one has amassed a clearer understanding of the way the Inklings related to each other within their community than Diana Glyer has. Her research and life’s work has changed the way we, as Lewis and Tolkien scholars, see their work and their relationships. But like the Inklings themselves, Professor Glyer has, along with a great mastery of her primary subject, also brought something new to the table of our understanding. She gives us a new window into the nature of community, collaboration and creativity itself. Twice she has blessed her reading public with fine books about the Inklings and writing in community. Her first is the seminal work – The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community. The second is her newly released title, Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings.
For all the years it has been my privilege to know Diana Glyer, I have watched her faithfully and consistently live out what she so deeply believes – that the creative life is best lived in community. When Diana Glyer talks about the vital importance of collaboration, she is not talking about a theory she thinks has merit; she is talking about what she knows best from living experience – hers as well as others. Collaboration is something we enter into with trust, courage, and good will. None of that can be given without a preceding condition of welcome and hospitality. Diana is one of the most thoroughly hospitable people I have ever known, and one of the most invitational. If ever a welcoming table is laid for heart, mind, or body, it is the one set out by Diana. This is something more than generosity or courtesy, though both of those are precious qualities. To truly welcome another is an incarnation of love. And in all the years that I have been writing about thriving believing creatives, I have seen this characteristic resident and deliberately practiced again and again. It is the practice of welcome. To receive another is elemental to what it is to live successfully as creative believers. To welcome others is one of the essential cultural values in the Kingdom of Heaven. To work collaboratively with others is to enter into the very process of loving incarnation out of which the triune God created us and the world we live in.
It is my tremendous pleasure and joy to be able to share this interview with Diana Glyer with you. She is a worthy guide in the worlds of the Inklings and creative collaboration. Alert! This interview is long and quite substantial. Give yourself some time to read it in parts if you need to and come back to it more than once to explore these ideas about collaboration and the creative life. This is a topic we will revisit more than once and from several directions here at Cultivating! Very happy reading, friends, and every blessing to you!
The message of Bandersnatch!
LES: Among several other titles, Diana, you’ve written two important books about C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and the Inklings – the landmark study The Company They Keep and your newly released title – Bandersnatch. Both books are about the inner workings of the Inklings. How do you describe the difference between the two?
DPG: The best way to describe the difference is to tell the story of how Bandersnatch got started. I was teaching a class on the Inklings, and a student came up to me after class. She said, “Professor: You wrote The Company They Keep as if you care about every single detail of the Inklings’ lives.”
I stared at her. I didn’t understand. “Yes?” I said.
“Well,” she said, “You know: not everyone does.”
Her comment was a revelation. The Company They Keep is rich in detail. It carefully documents just how much the Inklings influenced each other, and it is full of endnotes, examples, and specific citations. It includes a meticulous appendix (prepared by David Bratman) that offers a biography and an essential bibliography for all nineteen members of that extraordinary group.
On the other hand, I wrote Bandersnatch specifically in response to that very brave student. Bandersnatch is shorter, clearer, and much less academic. In it, I emphasize collaboration, specifically the collaboration of Lewis and Tolkien. I chopped out the theoretical chapters and replaced them with pages and pages of material on how we can “Do What the Inklings Did.” As a result, Bandersnatch is much more focused and far more practical.
LES: You are a remarkable writer and have passionate interests ranging from the Inklings to Dante to spiritual formation and creative collaboration. With such a broad range of interests and so many new projects tugging at your sleeve, why do another book on a topic that you have already spent such a great labour on? The Company They Keep is a seminal work in Inklings studies. Do you see Bandersnatch carrying a different message than The Company They Keep or does it really have a different purpose altogether?
DPG: Thank you so much. I am so gratified by the impact of The Company They Keep. The message of that book and the message of Bandersnatch are exactly the same: Lewis & Tolkien accomplished great and lasting things because they had the encouragement, correction, and practical help of the Inklings. Their example has far-reaching implications for each of us as we strive to make the most of our talents and opportunities.
You’ll find the same message at the heart of both books, but I wrote them for very different kinds of readers. The Company They Keep is a book for scholars. It’s a book to linger over, ponder, reflect, and dig deep. It’s a book for people who love to be invited into the complexities, who appreciate the big picture, and who don’t want to miss a thing.
On the other hand, Bandersnatch is for readers who want to cut to the chase: it is lean, lively, and direct.
Why write another book about the Inklings? Because the Inklings are such a fascinating example of what makes the creative process work. I wanted to make sure that their story reached way beyond the limits of those who are hungry to read hundreds of pages of Inklings biography.
Creative collaboration made a huge difference in their lives, and knowing that has changed mine. I want to inspire and equip others to create the kinds of connections that will make their own work to thrive. tweet
What’s different about Bandersnatch?
LES: What needs do you see Bandersnatch address that are different from other books on the market regarding writing in community and the practice of collaboration?
DPG: It’s true: I’m just fascinated by the creative process. There are some really great books out there: I love Austin Kleon (Steal Like an Artist) and Steven Pressfield (The War of Art) and David Burkus (The Myths of Creativity). I read and reread Csikszentmihalyi’s Creativity all the time: it’s simply brilliant.
These are great how-to books, but I find I like it best when I can get the inside story of how successful innovators work together. I’m a huge fan of Catmull’s description of Pixar in Creativity, Inc., for example. Or Berg’s insanely great biography of Max Perkins, showing how he brought out the best in Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Wolfe, and others.
So that’s the approach I use in Bandersnatch: offering insight into the how some of the greatest minds of the century worked side-by-side. It’s a peek inside every step of creative process, from coming up with great ideas to sustaining faith in a project over the long haul and finishing strong. For me, this is an approach that does more than instruct: it also inspires.
Collaborating with James A. Owen
LES: Given how little today’s audience is familiar with the term, why did you name this book Bandersnatch and not something more pragmatic?
DPG: Oh, those bandersnatches. Books on creativity should be creative, right? I wanted to capture the attention of out-of-the-box thinkers, offering something fun, challenging, mythic, maybe even monstrous and daring. You’ll see the same playful spirit at work in the chapter titles and subtitles, and again in the image of the bandersnatch that is hidden in each illustration.
LES: You collaborated with James A. Owen on those fabulous drawings. They add a really fun element to this book and I especially love the fact that there is a hidden bandersnatch in each illustration! Far and away, my favourite is the one of Lewis at Magdalen College. The quality of the illustrations and the intrigue they add enhances the beautiful production of the book. They remind me of those cool drawings we all loved as kids where we had to look for the hidden objects in the picture. It still comes across as a kind of visual magic!
DPG: I know, right? And I was thrilled at the chance to work with James A. Owen. I know him best for his series of fantasy novels called The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica, but he has accomplished a whole lot more. His books have been translated into more than twenty languages, and more than a million copies are in print.
James has many talents, but what I love best are his incredibly detailed line drawings. His work has the texture and complexity of old turn-of-the-century etchings. For Bandersnatch, we decided to feature some of the Inklings in some of our favorite Oxford locations: Hugo Dyson at the Eagle and Child pub, for example, and Warren Lewis in the doorway at the Kilns. There’s Christopher Tolkien at the family home on Northmoor Road, and Owen Barfield on Addison’s Walk. James did a full-page drawing for each chapter, and these images are just gorgeous!
LES: In the very opening of the book you have two quotes that establish a point of reference yet neither really hint at what a Bandersnatch is. So what exactly is a “Bandersnatch” and what do you mean by it in connection to writing, collaboration, and community?
DPG: A bandersnatch is a mythical monster created by Lewis Carroll. It’s featured in a poem called “Jabberwocky,” found in the Alice in Wonderland stories. Carroll writes, “Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! Beware the JubJub bird, and shun the frumious Bandersnatch!” Fans of the poem or readers who want to discover it can listen to Benedict Cumberbatch reading it here.
That’s where “bandersnatch” comes from; in this connection, I think of the bandersnatch as that grumpy, irritable, ferocious impulse that grips us sometimes and prompts us to try to tough it out and go it alone. We become frumious as a bandersnatch when someone tries to offer advice or lend a hand and instead of leaning in, we refuse. We hiss, we snarl and then withdraw.
The Inklings could be frumious, too, but, over time, they learned how to take creative risks together. They bounced ideas off each other, they read their works-in-progress to each other, they motivated each other and offered advice. They helped to promote each other to the larger world.
C. S. Lewis was great at this: reaching out to authors that he admired, connecting friends together, inviting others into his circle. He had such a generous, capacious soul. tweet
Of Inklings and influence
LES: Does that mean that only writers and artists will see the practical implications of doing what the Inklings did?
DPG: No, no. I don’t think so. Writers, musicians, filmmakers, storytellers, scholars? Sure. But also people in business, the scientist in the lab, the mom who is designing a homeschool curriculum, the student who wants to get the most from college– the list could go on and on. The Inklings learned to live lives rich in faith and friendship, and, in the process, honed their skills and used them to the fullest. Who wouldn’t want to figure out how they did it?
LES: In so much of your work, Diana, you’ve established how much of a difference this historic friendship made and how much difference they both made to each other. But Lewis also wrote that “No-one ever influenced Tolkien – you might as well try to influence a bandersnatch.” What exactly was Lewis saying with this remark, when he knew full well from his own experience that Tolkien solicited comments and suggestions, listened to critique, and made changes to his drafts? Lewis also knew that Tolkien could be hurt by remarks of others (including Hugo Dyson). What do you suppose he meant by the term “influence”? Was his understanding of influence different than we understand it some fifty-plus years later?
DPG: Honestly, Lewis’s comments on influence are much bigger and rather more complicated than that one comment might suggest. But yes, Lewis does say that sometimes when the Inklings gave him feedback, Tolkien “took no notice.” At times, I’m sure that’s true. Then again, I think that Lewis underestimated the extent to which Tolkien responded to the Inklings and their specific advice. Picture it this way: in the heat of an Inklings meeting, one member or another would make a suggestion, and Tolkien would push back, fighting to defend his artistic choices, resisting any change. That’s what writers do; no, that’s what all of us do when someone gives advice or offers, um, “constructive criticism.” The snarling, defensive impulse of the bandersnatch is strong in us.
Here’s what I’d like you to picture: What do you think happened after an Inklings meeting, after Tolkien returned home, when his house was quiet and the pages of his draft were spread out before him? There is ample evidence that in that moment, he’d remember a comment, consider its merits, and make significant changes to his story.
Perhaps an example will help. Let’s say that I give my manuscript to Linda asking for feedback. She reads it through and says something like, “The whole thing is way too long. Chop your third point; the first and second will suffice.” I might respond, “But Linda!! The third section is the most important one!” She’ll mutter a response; I’ll argue and pout; we’ll both go home feeling huffy. Then later, I’ll calm down and reconsider the draft.
With her critique in mind, I might decide to move the third point and put it first, then clarify and strengthen it. After that, I might severely shorten the other two sections to pick up the pace. In one sense, it may look like I ignored her advice entirely. In fact, her comment was the catalyst that completely changed the work.
Did the Inklings influence Tolkien? Well, he certainly didn’t always do what they told him to do. But even when he ignored their specific advice, he listened and he made major changes in response to what he heard.
LES: Where do you hope to see this book go – what kind of influence do you hope it will have? Is that different than what you had hoped for The Company They Keep?
DPG: In The Company They Keep, I corrected a lot of vague and misleading ideas about the Inklings and the nature of their work together. I also tried to raise some theoretical questions, especially questions about what counts as literary influence. There is such a strong tendency to think that influence means imitation. As I argue in The Company They Keep, influence isn’t a synonym for imitation: it means change.
But in Bandersnatch, I raise the stakes. In a way, I go from describing to meddling, that is to say, rather than just looking at all the fun that the Inklings were having, I invite readers to have a go at it themselves, to jump right in and do the same.
That seems to be the way that readers have been responding. I got a note from one reader who was so excited about the book. She wrote, “I’m about half-way through Bandersnatch, and I want two things: to start writing again, and to have a community like the Inklings.” That’s it. That’s it exactly.
Doing what they did – terms of collaboration
LES: You have suggestions at the end of each chapter titled “Doing what they did.” How do you hope to see readers applying these suggestions?
DPG: I wanted to show that the Inklings deserve our attention not only because Lewis and Tolkien were really interesting but also because they were very successful. I didn’t want readers to miss the underlying principles that made them great. That’s why I wrote an application section at the end of each chapter and an epilogue that offers step-by-step suggestions for those who want to create their own network of support.
One of those suggestions says simply “Start small.” That’s what I’d like readers to consider. Are you working on a story or article? Email it to a colleague and ask for feedback. Feeling discouraged about a long-term project? Set up a coffee time (every Monday afternoon? alternating Thursdays after dinner?) to meet with a friend and check in. Considering a new venture? Gather a few others in the same line of work and see if a monthly problem-solving meeting might energize your efforts. Preparing a sermon for Sunday? Gather a group of friends in your living room on Friday afternoon, present it, and ask for advice.
The important thing, I think, is to find ways to connect. There’s a chilling tendency in our culture for us to become more and more isolated from one another. That’s not good. We pay a price: our work isn’t the best it can be, our assumptions aren’t challenged, our understanding isn’t expanded, our gifts aren’t discovered, our talents aren’t honed. But you know what? There can be an even bigger price than that. When we withdraw, the price is loneliness and heartache. It’s just not good for us to be so alone.
LES: Some of what you are suggesting doesn’t really sound like collaboration, the way most folks would think of it, especially if one is defining it as an intentional effort to “combine forces”, so to speak. Talking over coffee and having someone listen to a presentation are things lots of us do as a normal part of living and working. Some readers might say that you are defining “collaboration” so broadly that it doesn’t have enough substance to mean the more intentional and decisive efforts I just mentioned. How do you respond to that critique?
DPG: I’m not terribly fussy about whether or not we use the word “collaboration” to describe what the Inklings did or to characterize the steps we can take to support one another as we strive to do our best work. What matters is to expand the various ways that we connect and learn to be intentional about involving others in various steps in our process. Think about a whole range of activities here:
Fishing for ideas. (Lewis asking for suggestions for poems to write, for example. Or Owen Barfield stuck for a new project and the Inklings suggesting he write the play Orpheus.)
Taking up a challenge (Like Lewis and Tolkien, who tossed a coin and competed with each other to write their first novels.)
Writing with anticipation. (All of the Inklings knowing they had a ready audience waiting, expectant, every Thursday night.)
Dealing with criticism and correction. (Tolkien cutting out the epilogue to The Lord of the Rings.)
Sustaining faith to see it through to the finish. (Tolkien’s long effort to finish the work.)
Maintaining courage to send the work out. (Lewis persisting after his publisher rejected Out of the Silent Planet.)
Writing reviews and blurbs and opening doors of opportunity to make their work known. (If there had been Amazon at that time, they’d be posting reviews. As it was, they published dozens of reviews of each other’s books, and quoted each other in the books they were writing.)
Creating characters based on each other. (Treebeard. Ransom. Jak. Hunter.)
Composing poetry together. (Just like school kids, they composed round-robin stories and wrote poems, throwing alternating lines back and forth.)
These are just some of the things they did together– there’s so many more examples of the ways they worked together; there are so many ways we can learn from what they did and go on from there to invent strategies of our own.
I think of the brilliant ways that Steve Bell and Malcolm Guite write music. Sometimes, that looks like sitting down together, picking out a tune and adding lyrics as they go. But another time, Steve might take a poem that Malcolm’s written, put it to music, and ask for feedback. Or Steve might tell Malcolm to go and write another stanza. They might meet on stage and do a series of songs and readings. Or they might sit on different continents in separate recording studios, preparing words and music that an engineer will combine into something new and magical.
Are all of those “collaboration” as it’s normally understood? Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not so fussy about what we call it. What I know for sure is that Steve and Malcolm do absolutely breathtaking work together, things that simply would not have emerged if they had never met. And not only that: I imagine that if you asked them, each would say that not only have they done really great work together, but each one has learned something lasting from the experience. They’ve honed their individual talents, become better artists. Each has grown as an individual– in ways that last– because they made the time to work side by side, creating something new.
LES: I love those kinds of stories! You’ve done such a beautiful job of creating a way to present those stories in the book and the accompanying website!
DPG: Thank you! It’s energizing, isn’t it, to see what happens when people engage? It’s fun for me to see the ways they bring out the best in each other. Iron sharpening iron, to be sure, but more than that. There’s something so catalytic at work. Something that becomes so much greater than the sum of its parts.
Discovery about the nature of creative clusters
LES: In the introduction of Bandersnatch, you describe the long process you went through in researching The Company They Keep and how you discovered something of great importance that you really had not been looking for. Would you describe what you discovered and how it served as a kind of turning point in your research?
DPG: I started researching the friendship of Lewis and Tolkien because I was curious to see if I could discover a thread of influence that connected them. I was seeking to answer just two questions: What did Lewis and Tolkien say to each other? And what difference did these conversations make to the books they were writing?
As I gathered bits and pieces—collecting comments they made in diaries and searching out corrections and changes in their manuscripts—I felt like a detective tracking a tangled web of connections. That’s the story I tell in The Company They Keep.
I read everything I could get my hands on. The evidence clearly showed that their conversations made a tremendous difference—it sparked ideas for new projects, it shaped the direction of their stories, it helped them to overcome discouragement and disappointment, and it inspired them to persist in their work. Practical help made writing possible, connections helped them get their work published, and reviews let others discover their books.
In short, evidence of influence was everywhere. But then, I kept bumping into another issue altogether: how much they valued all this creative collaboration. I was surprised by this because much of my own early experience with collaboration hasn’t been very successful. I was reminded of science projects in middle school and class presentations in college, of committees at work and long, awkward business meetings. But it was clear to me that the Inklings had learned to make collaboration work for them; in fact, it was very clear that their collaboration made all the difference. Ultimately, I had to come to grips with the fact that their understanding of collaboration was both broader and deeper than mine.
LES: The formation of the Inklings is truly striking in its simplicity. There was no master plan, no set of yearly goals with measurable target dates, no vision casting, or drafting of a mission statement for the group. It was just work, friendship, faith rolled into regular meetings over a long period of time and touched with the breath of God. What kept them sustainable for so long?
DPG: The Inklings lasted about 17 years, far more than the average for such things. How did they manage it? The biggest reason, I think, is their flexibility. There were 19 members, but all 19 members didn’t start together in 1929 and stay together to the very end. Through the years, new members would rotate in, others would move on. In that way, there are several different seasons in the life of the group, each with its own character and focus.
Another key to their longevity is that they didn’t insist that all members participate at the same level. Some were there always, others stopped in from time to time as they were able. Owen Barfield is an example: he was an Inkling from the earliest years, but since lived in London, not Oxford, he would attend when he could.
There’s another thing that is worth mentioning. The Inklings did not expect to get everything they needed from that one Thursday night critique group. They’d meet during the week in smaller clusters. They’d also collaborate with other friends and colleagues.
On a typical night, 4 or 5 Inklings would gather, but the composition of that group kept changing all the time. The projects kept changing, too. That openness kept things fresh and interesting.
Some biographers imply that the end of Inklings meetings was a tragic indication of failure fueled by the rupture between Lewis and Tolkien. But that’s not what happened. The average writing group or creative cluster lasts about 6 or 7 years. And when it falls apart, it’s not because something has gone terribly wrong; usually, it’s because the group has met its goals and fulfilled its purpose. Sometimes, it’s simply time for people to move on to new things. Whether long term or short term, this is a healthy process. A creative cluster is not intended to continue indefinitely.
Technology, social relationships, & creative growth
LES: Given the enormous changes in our social worlds where we now connect globally more by email than a meal, is it really possible to create relationships and groups that share the same kind of commitment and focus?
DPG: Oh, absolutely! Technology is a terrible master, but it can be a really good servant. One writing team I know simply does a bi-weekly catch-up by Skype: they connect to talk about what their progress, complain about their challenges, and offer a bit of understanding and sympathy. Simply touching base in this way has helped both of them deal with the discouragement and loneliness of long-term writing projects. They feel motivated to keep writing day after day because they don’t feel they are the only one facing the challenge of the blank page. Even though they are thousands of miles apart, they don’t feel so alone.
Other writers I know actually collaborate in real time by composing fiction together on Google Drive while talking to each other on Facetime. They work fast and furious that way, and they are very productive. I’ve taken advantage of Google Drive, too, by posting rough drafts and then inviting a few colleagues to edit and make comments. I’m grateful for their help and I’m a better writer for it.
I think of the wonderful work Jeff Goins has started with the on-line group My 500. Or they way that my students create Facebook groups to share resources, track progress, clarify assignments, and hold one another accountable. In all these examples, it can make all the difference in the world simply to know we don’t have to go it alone.
I believe that there will always be the need for people to gather face-to-face and enjoy all the benefits of being together in the very same time, same space. But technology can help fill in the gaps. It can help connections stay strong. Or it can serve to create connections when the circumstances aren’t favorable or when distances stand in the way.
One of my favorite examples is the work of fiction writer ZZ Packer. She helped mastermind a great writing group, and they combine face-to-face meetings with regular weekend retreats. Here how she describes it: “I needed a group that was both less formal and more communal—less product, more process. I needed a group as willing to help me with my writerly angst as to help fix my manuscript’s flaws. I needed the observational and diagnostic abilities of a top-notch shrink, the warmth, affection, and patience of a skilled nanny, and the take-no-prisoners attitude of a drill sergeant. A tall order, but I was certain that the right bunch of people could fill it.” Read more about Packer’s group process and how they use technology here.
LES: One of the remarkable qualities of the Inklings was the famed ‘hammer & tongs’ style of their discussion – harsh, even brutal critique. Yet Tolkien expressed appreciation for these men, writing that he felt safe from “contention, ill will, detraction, or accusations without evidence.” How is it possible to have conversations of that intensity and still sustain a sense of safety? Clearly, they didn’t seem to be too concerned about hurting each other’s feelings as they critiqued each other’s work.
DPG: Think about a time when you were really grateful that a beloved friend sat you down and told you the brutal truth about something that you didn’t want to hear. What makes a moment like that work? It’s not necessarily that they “break it to you gently” or that they sandwich bad news in the middle of good news. It’s not that negative comments are balanced with positive comments, either. Don’t get me wrong; those things can help. But I believe that what makes the biggest difference in a situation like that is that you genuinely believe with your whole heart that that friend had your best interest in mind. Think about it. A single stray comment from someone who is trying to tear you down is incredibly hurtful; a long conversation with someone who cares deeply about you is amazingly healing. Knowing that they care makes a much bigger difference than whether the news itself is good or bad. It’s a scriptural principle, isn’t it? Proverbs 27:6a tells us that “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.”
If you apply that idea to the Inklings, it’s easier to understand how it is possible that they were direct and brutal, they were fierce and critical, and yet they felt safe and supported. In a letter written in 1936, Lewis told Charles Williams he wanted to establish “the precedent of brutal frankness.” No “butter bath” for these men: from the start, they cared enough to want to bring out the very best in each other.
In short, you can manage any amount of criticism when you honestly believe that the person who is speaking into your life truly understands you and wants the best for you.
LES: Related to the comment above by Tolkien, I am guessing Tolkien made that remark this early on in the life of the Inklings before the impact of Hugo Dyson’s attitudes became so destructive and hurtful to him and ultimately to the whole group. Where is the drawing line between hard honesty of critique that feeds into the formation of a better piece of writing and critique that is destructive? Do you have a word of caution or some guidance for writers in their own groups?
DPG: Notice the words that Tolkien chooses so carefully: they were safe from ill will and accusations without evidence. In other words, in the Inklings, they knew that there was good intention and honorable purpose. They expected there would be solid support for the feedback (positive or negative) they were given.
Dyson’s comments were another thing altogether. The Inklings could relish any amount of specific critique on their work. Remember Lewis’s response when he first read Tolkien’s poem The Lay of Leithian? He wrote 14 pages of criticism of that poem, and he even rewrote a number of the stanzas to show Tolkien how he thought it should have been done! And Tolkien was deeply grateful for it.
Or think of Charles Williams, when he read the first chapters of his novel The Noises that Weren’t There. The Inklings didn’t like it at all. They recommended that he abandon it. So he did. And that brave confrontation paved the way to his best book, All Hallows’ Eve.
What Dyson did was different. When he criticized The Lord of the Rings, it wasn’t to offer critique. He’d moan and complain and he’d shut the whole thing down.
There is an enormous difference between telling an author what to do to make a story better and telling an author that you just don’t want to hear what they have to say. tweet
The first is supportive. The latter is dismissive. If we want to be better at offering help to one another, it’s really important for us to master the difference.
5 essential roles in collaborative groups
LES: In The Company They Keep, Diana, you identify 5 important elements or roles found in collaborative groups: Resonators (encouraging voices); Opponents (thoughtful criticism); Editors (helpful suggestions); Collaborators (project teammates); Referents (those who write about one another). Those functions are also described in Bandersnatch. What do you recommend to collaborative groups for keeping a balance of these roles? Do you see individuals in creative groups largely playing one role or many?
DPG: I’m grateful that you listed out those 5 roles. I’ve argued in Bandersnatch and elsewhere that we all need all 5 of those elements in order to sustain our productivity for the long haul. It is unlikely we will find all 5 in the same group; for most of us, we need to be strategic and consider a number of different groups or settings in order to get the help we need. One friend might be especially good in critique, another really helpful as a resonator when we are exploring a new possibility. A small cluster of interested readers may be just the thing for exchanging fiction, but we may need another community to listen to our scholarship, or poetry, or art, or music.
It is interesting to keep in mind that the Inklings were also members of many different groups over the years. Various members participated in the Coalbiters or the Socratic Club, the Cave and Dante Society. Different groups for different purposes.
Not only that: members of the Inklings would meet in smaller groups of two or three to read work aloud in different settings than the usual Thursday nights at Magdalen College. Or they’d involve other readers to get a different point of view: Charles Williams read his novels aloud to his wife; Edith Tolkien read her husband’s stories; Lewis worked extensively with Roger Lancelyn Green on the Narnia chronicles; Dyson coauthored a book with John Butt; the list goes on and on.
So one author might be involved in a variety of collaborative circles, gaining different benefits from each one and, often, playing different roles. In some of my collaborative circles, I am a rank beginner; in others, I’m a mentor. I might speak more in one group and less in another. I might lead or follow, focus on my projects or serve the work of another. More than one group. More than one role. More than one project. More than one need.
Dispelling the old stereotype of lonely genius
LES: One of my favorite chapters in Bandersnatch is Chapter 8 – “Leaf-mould and Memory.” This chapter is so rich in its material we will be referring to it again in a few months for an extended interview about the ideas you explore there. For the sake of our readers today, if there is a single idea or empowering notion that you desire for Bandersnatch readers to take away from Chapter 8?
DPG: In Chapter 8, I challenge the idea that real creativity is the work of a lonely genius, you know, that stereotype of an eccentric and wild-eyed inventor who reaches some kind of mad creative breakthrough in a fit of inspiration. Late at night. In an attic. During a thunderstorm.
This dramatic idea permeates our literature, and it makes for great movies, too. But it isn’t the way creative genius works. The real story, quite different from the Hollywood stereotype, is far more ordinary. And in the ordinary course of things, connecting with others is one important component of the creative process.
Charles Williams said it well: “Much was possible to a man in solitude. …But some things were possible only to a man in companionship, and of these the most important was balance. No mind was so good that it did not need another mind to counter and equal it, and to save it from conceit and blindness and bigotry and folly.” tweet
LES: For quite a long period of time the idea of collaboration has had a negative connotation to it and has been looked on as something suspect for creatives. The notion that the creative genius is someone who works alone, is emotionally tortured, and often socially adrift has been one of the great stumbling blocks in our past two or three generations. Its has promoted a terribly destructive climate for creative thinkers of every kind to work in and it has fed some of the worst kinds of isolation we see creatives fall prey to. Do you see your work, or that of the Inklings for that matter, as a counter-argument to this view?
DPG: Even Humphrey Carpenter, who wrote the first book on the Inklings, was under the spell of the romantic idea of the suffering genius. There are traces of it everywhere, and some of it is quite vehement. I remember one of the first times that I lectured about Joy Davidman and talked about how involved she was with the writing of Till We Have Faces. I’d just finished my comments and a woman in the audience stood up and raised her hand. I called on her. She was livid. “C. S. Lewis was a genius,” she said. “And he didn’t need any help from a girl.”
It’s in our nature, I suppose, to want to defend our heroes. But the very fact that we feel defensive at all when we talk about co-authorship in particular or collaboration in general tells us something, doesn’t it? It’s that ornery bandersnatch again, haunting our psyche, limiting our options, scaring us away from the impulse to reach out and make connections, from figuring out healthy strategies that will work for us, from inviting others, as Charles Williams suggests, to help us use our strengths and balance our weaknesses.
It’s in our nature, too, I think, to bounce from one extreme to another, all or nothing, either/or. When I talk about collaboration, some people immediately think of endless meetings, open office designs, constantly peering over one another’s shoulders, always second guessing ourselves, or slavishly following what others tell us to do. As I describe in Chapter 8 of Bandersnatch, there’s a need for community AND a need for solitude. How we manage the two will be different not only for different people but also for different stages of a project or in different seasons of life.
I don’t know that I want to think about the work I am doing here as a “counter-argument” because that sometimes encourages more of this either/or, all-or-nothing way of thinking. Maybe a better way to describe what I am up to is something like this: I want to encourage people to look at successful models of productivity, and one of the very best is the incredible achievement of C. S. Lewis and his friend J. R. R. Tolkien. They did great things. We need to dig deep into their process. We need to figure out what made it work. And we will benefit greatly if we can invent ways to adapt their discoveries and make them our own.
Coming up next & a favourite story
LES: What are your any plans for releasing more material related to Bandersnatch? Anything coming up in the next year or two?
DPG: Bandersnatch is the spark, the starting point for people who are curious to know how connecting with others will energize their work and support their creative vision. There is so much more to say about exactly how to do that: What options are there for different kinds of creative clusters? What makes a group healthy and keeps a group strong? What is the difference between toxic cynicism and life-giving critique? Are there different guidelines for extroverts and introverts? Do these principles really work across multiple art forms and different disciplines?
I’m excited to be working on a number of projects to help unpack all that. A series of films will feature conversations with innovators in various fields who have found the way to make collaboration work. I’ll also be putting more of my lectures on YouTube, and I’m preparing several new eBooks filled with practical help.
I’ll keep posting recommended reading, fun videos, inspirational quotes, and other resources on the Bandersnatch Facebook page, and I’d love for you to join me there.
For the latest on new materials, speaking engagements, workshops, and the rest, sign up for my mailing list at www.Bandersnatchbook.com.
LES: Diana, what was your favorite part of Bandersnatch to write and why? Do you have a parting wish to share with readers that stems out of your favorite part to write?
I absolutely love the story of how the Inklings got started. We tend to think of them all sitting around in Lewis’s rooms at Magdalen, dreaming up great stories and earnestly arguing over big ideas. That was true of the group in its later years, but that’s not how it all began.
Here’s what happened: Lewis and Tolkien enjoyed each other’s company, so they decided to meet every Monday for lunch. Just two people, neither one particularly accomplished, meeting for lunch and conversation. Week after week. As you said: No agenda, no plans, no mission statement, no fanfare.
At one of those meetings, Tolkien asked Lewis if he might like to read a poem that he’d been working on. Lewis took that poem from Tolkien’s hands, read it, loved it, and jotted a quick note responding to it. “I can quite honestly say that it is ages since I have had an evening of such delight,” he said.
The next week, they got together for lunch again. This time, Lewis gave Tolkien a poem that he’d been working on. Tolkien took it, loved it, and responded. That’s how the famous and heroic gatherings known as the Inklings got their start: two people, a regularly scheduled appointment for lunch, a brave impulse to share work in progress, and a generous, encouraging response. The Lord of the Rings, The Screwtape Letters, All Hallows’ Eve, That Splendid Century, and dozens of other books were the spectacular result.
I love this story because it shows that at its heart, creative community is simple. It’s entirely doable. Find one person. Share what you are working on. Learn more about the process, and see what unfolds from there. tweet
Diana Pavlac Glyer will be speaking at the Anselm Society at Holy Trinity Church in Colorado Springs, April 9, 2016. For more information about this event –http://www.anselmsociety.org/events/2016/4/9/workshop-keys-to-successful-collaboration. More information about the wonderful Anselm Society can be found on their website —http://www.anselmsociety.org and in this interview with Anselm Society founder – Brian Brown.
You can find a wonderful set of short video’s on Diana Glyer’s YouTube channel related to Bandersnatch. Here is the link to the first one – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GycrEUKYhB8 I heartily encourage you to subscribe to her channel and to her blog!
Here is the excellent video of Diana Pavlac Glyer presenting about Intellectual Hospitality at the marvelous C.S. Lewis Foundation‘s flagship event – Oxbridge – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7GTtZEW9Kk. For more information about the C.S. Lewis Foundation – click here. This talk is one of my very favourite plenary presentations. Give this a look!
A superb podcast with Diana Glyer talking about Bandersnatch is found here on William O’Flaherty’s great site – All About Jack. http://allaboutjack.podbean.com/e/bandersnatch-diana-glyer/
One of my very favourite reviews to date of Bandersnatch is by writer Ashlee Cowles – http://www.kirkcenter.org/index.php/bookman/article/creating-in-community/
And here is a very helpful review of Bandersnatch by Dr. Crystal Hurd: http://www.legendariummedia.com/2015/12/08/book-review-bandersnatch-diana-pavlac-glyer/
A crisply written interview giving a good overview and clear understanding of the book is found here – http://amazingstoriesmag.com/2016/02/review-bandersnatch-by-dianne-lynn-glyer/
The images of Dr. Diana Pavlac Glyer illustrating this interview are copyright of Lancia E. Smith. Please inquire with me directly via this site’s contact form regarding their use. Thank you so much!
A special thanks from Diana and me to friends who generously contributed thought, skill and collaborative engagement with this interview:
Andrew Lazo, Crystal Hurd, Doug Jackson, and Rebekah Choat.
And I would like to offer my own thanks to Jeff Goins for his friendship, encouragement, and faithful example for inspiring, engaging, and empowering creatives to find their voice and their tribe. He is an agent, if ever there was one, for creative collaboration!
Many blessings to you, friends!