November 01, 2023 | Matt Kucinski

Nine people sitting around a table with writing samples in front of them smile at the camera.
Writers gather at Scriptoria to provide feedback to one another on their writing samples.

Connie Hampton Connally has always enjoyed writing. She’s been to several writer workshops and conferences over the years. Some of them focused on how to find a publisher, others on how to improve one’s craft.

But most didn’t allow hospitable space for her faith.

“So, I’ve sometimes gone to Christian writers’ conferences too,” said Connally.

The problem she found is she’d leave all of these conferences feeling frustrated.

“I felt frustrated that it wasn’t all that high a literary level,” said Connally of her prior experience at Christian writer’s conferences. And for those workshops connected with a university or another organization that are non-faith based, she said “there’s a little or a lot of intellectual prejudice against religion, so for people of faith it can be frustrating, and you begin to feel pretty alone.”

Dreaming bigger

Thankfully for Connally, the community she was craving was forming.

Gary Schmidt, a longtime English professor at Calvin University and a Newbery and Printz Honor winning author, was talking with Cynthia Beach and Gretchen Rumhor, colleagues at two nearby faith-based institutions. “We met over lunch and started to dream,” said Schmidt.

What emerged from those discussions was a collaboration between Calvin University, Cornerstone University, and Aquinas College. “This [collaboration] provided an opportunity for us to think seriously about how it is that a group of Catholic, reformed, and evangelical writers might come together and learn from one another about the craft of writing, how we approach the craft of writing.”

The result was a novel kind of writer’s workshop called Scriptoria.

A man standing behind a podium addressing a small group of people.
Gary Schmidt addresses workshop attendees during a session at Scriptoria on Calvin University's campus in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Getting started

“The idea is, let’s get writers to write with excellence, so in the workshop we gather together in the mornings to talk about how to revise and create good writing, but also to encourage people to be more thoughtful about how their faith does truly impact not just what you are writing, but how you are going about it,” said Schmidt. “It’s not just, ‘Oh, okay, I’m a Christian so I shouldn’t use a cuss word here.’ It’s much more about thinking as a Christian in a particular tradition, and at the same time, coming to understand what I can learn from other faith-based traditions as I grow in the craft of writing.”

This idea is exactly what Connally was longing for and so when she got wind of the inaugural meeting of Scriptoria in 2022, she didn’t hesitate to sign up.

“I thought ‘wow, that is just exactly where my heart is.’ I felt a real longing to be able to come together with other writers centered around faith,” said Connally. “I wanted to be with people who wanted to write deeply and with an attitude that faith is part of what we’re here for. I thought it was a real nice combination of spiritual support and intellectual growth.”

Receiving support, gaining confidence

Connally left this workshop feeling much different than those she had attended before. Instead of frustrated, she left fulfilled. She also left with a boon of support, which Connally said came at just the right time.

“When I went to Scriptoria, I had finished writing a novel and I was in the middle of editing it. When I found out Scriptoria was going to be offering a prize for the best fiction writing, I thought I should submit it,” said Connally. So, she worked tirelessly to get it in before the deadline.

Then at the workshop, she brought the first two chapters of her novel as her writing sample to be workshopped with others in small groups of eight. In each session, the group would read and offer feedback and suggestions on their peers’ writing. For Connally, that time proved to be life-giving. “I got some really nice feedback on those chapters from the people in my workshop.”

And then … “they announced that my novel was the winner of the Best Fiction, and I was just so grateful because people were super supportive and excited about it,” said Connally. Thanks to a generous gift from Henry and Mary Vander Goot, the award came with a $5,000 monetary prize. While Connally was excited for the money and the possibilities it could present her as she looked toward publishing her novel, she knew the support she received during the workshop experience gave her confidence.

A woman seated at a kitchen table smiling as she signs a book contract.
Connie Connally signing her book contract with Coffeetown Press.

“I was extremely grateful for the support on my manuscript,” said Connally, “not only that it won the prize but also that people were backing me up on that, saying ‘Connie, send this out and keep us informed on how it does.’”

In April 2024, Connally’s book Fire Music will be published by Coffeetown Press.

Beautiful outcomes

Schmidt is encouraged by success stories like those of Connally and at how the workshop has grown since its first year.

“This is a great opportunity for people who have wanted to write or thought they wanted to write but really don’t know how to move from finished manuscript to a published book,” said Schmidt. “We show people how to use that process, how to go from a manuscript to an agent to a publishing house to a finished text.”

And for Schmidt, an accomplished author, perhaps the greatest takeaway from this writing workshop is even surprising to him.

“One of the things we do is we have devotions in the morning and writers from Calvin, Cornerstone, and Aquinas each take turns. It’s been eye-opening in a way just to see how each tradition approaches the idea of a morning devotional for a writing workshop,” said Schmidt. “For the reformed world it feels very intellectually oriented and then with Aquinas, highly liturgical, and there we are all together. It feels to me at the very least this enterprise, this Scriptoria, has brought some people to an awareness of a tradition that they hadn’t thought about very seriously before, and in the center of this is understanding how our words matter, how they reflect our faith, how they can help us and others come to an understanding of God. They all cohere for me in that moment [devotional time].

“It’s not the event that takes the most time during the time, but it is at the center of what we do, and I cherish that time when a few dozen people come together to worship, and then we go and see how today our words reflect our faith. That’s a cool thing.”

That’s Scriptoria.

Join in '24

In 2024, Scriptoria is set to welcome accomplished writers like Daniel Nayeri, an editor and this year’s Printz Award-winning author of a young adult fiction book, Vinita Hampton Wright, a well-known Christian author, and Hugh Cook, an award-winning Canadian Christian author, to name a few. Attendees will also have the opportunity to meet 1-on-1 with editors, writers, and agents.

Registration is open.

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