Unlike a writer’s group or workshop, the writers’ salon was (and is) much more collaborative in nature. Even when it was competitive, the relationships formed between writers such as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald proved inspirational. Yet these writers didn’t sit around in a formal circle to collaborate; their work was produced much more informally, with less directed critique. It didn’t hurt that much of their thinking, creating, and fomenting went on in those wonderful Parisian cafés we’d all like to be inhabiting, but that’s really beside the point. Where you foment isn’t necessarily as important as what you produce, and that you are happy with it.
I would very much like to reinstate the traditional (proper) writers’ salon, where people show up for a good natter over coffee or wine, and do something that is vital to creativity: cross-pollinate each other’s work. For the moment, for example, I am hanging out with musicians. I have also, at various times in my life, hung out with theatre people, artists in various media, and other writers. I think this is vital to recharge your emotional and psychic batteries, to get your creative spirit engaged.
The difference between the way a salon and a workshop feels to the writing-self is important. Workshops I have attended (and started) often feel forced, but hanging out with other creative people just to talk is not usually forced. Your purpose for being together is to share your work—informally. There isn’t that puritanical schoolhouse sense of ‘I must do this just right’ when you’re hanging out with other like-minded souls, kicking the ball of an idea around. Instead, you just feel like you’re sharing good company while you work something out (or not).
Workshops are great if you’re producing and feel comfortable showing up religiously week after week, rain or shine, but they require a kind of self-discipline of spirit that is sometimes counterproductive to creativity, I’ve found.