On Homework

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The power of story. The beauty of community. Those, I would say, encapsulate the dominant themes and conversations from the initial Hutchmoot gathering. Both are sexy. Both require work.

The common bond between so many convening around the Rabbit Room these days is a love for story and a feeling that God has given them a story to tell in the process. I met several burgeoning songwriters and authors over the weekend who mentioned they felt empowered to create what was within them. The community at Hutchmoot provided the impetus needed for these works waiting to be brought to life. And that’s a wonderful thing to be celebrated.

But Hutchmoot is temporary. And the Rabbit Room is digital. We have certainly found inspiration and encouragement to this point (or else we wouldn’t be here), but a longing emerged from those present at Church of the Redeemer for a deeper level of artistic community. The friendships between various songwriters and authors were highlighted and then prodded, “How do I form what you have formed?”

The underlying tension is that everyone in the room recognized that the songwriters pushed one another to be better. Pete and Andrew Peterson both said they shared their books with one another throughout their drafts. Like-minded artists pushing one another deeper into the excellence of their craft, of their own story, is what so many longed for.

I spent the Sunday night after Hutchmoot in the Nashville area before heading home catching a Griffin House concert. He’s a Nashville songwriter who’s been able to ply his trade for a decade or so and he shared a new song he said was birthed in a community group. It was my favorite of the songs he revealed that night. Just a few weeks prior, Griffin gave us an interview for a music website I founded a few years ago. In it, he speaks of this community and the power of it in his own life:

“I just joined this songwriting group with Bob Schneider and some other writers – right now Sarah and Sean from Nickel Creek are in it – and we all get together and write, sending in a song every week based on a prompt we’re given … we have to turn one in every week, it keeps us going. I’ve written my entire new record from that process. I’ve been amazed just how much having a prompt, an assignment, can help keep you focused.”

I was amazed this last weekend at the need for homework and a community that will push me to complete it. It’s one thing to have a story in your head. That’s the romantic part. The grist mill of deadlines is the covenant relationship you make with that story. We’re not typically given to relationships so intense and demanding. But it’s the beauty of community that draws us to marry our story and, ultimately, introduce it to the world.

Matt Conner is a freelance writer and music journalist. As the founding pastor of The Mercy House, he led a church community for more than six years in intense community development across racial and socio-economic lines. As a writer, he’s interviewed thousands of musicians for multiple print and web-based publications.


8 Comments

  1. Sharon

    Matt,
    You hit the nail on the head. I was one of the Hutchmooters (Hutchmootians? Hutchmootees?) who felt freed and empowered to call myself a writer and to go at it more intentionally and consistently. I’m in a writer’s group at my church. Your last paragraph says it all. I can just say “amen.”

  2. Leigh McLeroy

    About seven years ago, after ghostwriting half a dozen books for someone famous, I gave myself an assignment: write 500 words each week — in my own voice — and deliver them to a few close friends. I’m still writing that assignment, and over the years it has provided content for one book (The Sacred Ordinary)as well as ideas for several others, and the list has grown to around 2000. Those 500 word essays (unimaginatively called Wednesday words) are sometimes the ONLY thing I write for myself in any given week, but they keep me watching, and thinking, and clicking at the keys. Here’s today’s offering: http://tinyurl.com/26bq6qp. But for deadlines…oh my dear.

  3. Sarah

    i love this post! i just finished reading The War of Art by steven pressfield. it is a challenging read as it pushes at this very same thing—making a discipline of the creative process. in addition to being a practical book, it is ripe with spiritual undertones. since finishing it has prompted me to be more intentional with “creating” moments of inspiration instead of just waiting for them to happen. great thoughts in this post of how the element of community really plays into this as well.

  4. Ashley Elizabeth

    Thank you Matt and Leigh! This is exactly what I needed. As a writer for other people’s voices, I’m often confused at exactly what my voice is, how is writes, how it conveys truth.

    500 words is a great and horrible assignment. Looks like a weekend project.

  5. Matt Conner

    @mattconner

    Leigh, that’s a great reminder of discipline to lay out an exact amount and timeline for that. I’m currently on sabbatical from my pastor position for a month and finally working on a book project that’s been long gestating for some time.

    I’m bi-vocational as a pastor and I write nearly full-time about all things pop culture (and some ministry-oriented things). That means that I have all these ideas swirling without any time to really dive into one of them. To work on my won idea means not writing for someone else (and making money). So I often abandon my own for the sake of the paycheck.

    Thanks, Leigh, for that reminder.

  6. Pracades

    Has anyone here at the Rabbit Room consider posting a weekly prompt for anyone who wants to participate? As Matt said, its digital, so not quite as intimate as sharing your work with a group of friends, but it could be a good jumping off point for some of us.

    I humbly say I used to consider myself a writer but have felt less than inspired the past few years and have not written more than a few pages, but I always feel a longing towards the art, a passion for the sub-creation.

    I would love to see what prompts would show up on this site with all the amazing writers that post here!

    Possible writing groups could form from those who wish to participate?

  7. Andy

    Matt,
    I was unable to attend the HM but in reading summaries and reviews I’m struck by a similar dynamic having been created by the SPA and the artists at Pixar.

    Years ago I read an article about the process the team at Pixar used to consistently produce wonderful stories on film. They basically formed a community which the call the brain trust, and each director throughout their film making process puts forth their unfinished film to the others for suggestions, corrections, warnings, ideas, etc. They are not obligated to use anything that comes from the time together, as they alone are responsible for their film, but their respect for the others, they trust they have in the others’ mutual goal of excellent story telling through animation and awareness that they are invited into the others’ film making journey as well leads to each film becoming better through the group than one person’s vision alone.

    It seems to me that this process applies to book, song, lesson plan or sermon as much as a film. The time span may vary but the risks and necessary components remain very much the same. What I hear in the echoing question of “how do we get what you guys have?” is “where do I find respect, trust and a shared vision in a vulnerable community?” My experiences, and I suspect what is buried in the back story of a song like “The Same Song” on Counting Stars by our proprietor, is that those elements are not given away cheaply. We get that community through shared experiences, many if not mostly hard ones. They prove the trust is valid. They clarify that the goal is indeed greater than petty wants or preferences. They determine if respect is justified by offering temptations to turn back, quit or produce lesser quality worship in the art. The Master modeled it in his community of 13. It is the way of the cross and those who seek such a community must be willing to follow it to gain what they seek.

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