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Help Where You Can Use It – Writer Workshops
by Willma Willis Gore

In the past four years, 25 members in my five workshops have been published and paid for their words or have placed in contests. Three have received payment for their essays or memoirs published in anthologies. Three have won cash prizes in contests. Three have self-published their novels. I have published two nonfiction (advance & royalties) books. One gal is a master on-line marketer of her how-to books that sell for $100 each. (She has sold more than $4000 worth as of this writing.)

I can't claim that my any of my "writing wisdom" has played a major role in these successes but without question, the sales are a testimonial to the value of our workshops. Publication or a contest win for any one of the group inspires and rewards us all. The workshops provide a forum where a small number of writers gather twice a month to share, learn and teach each other.

One of our members, Douglas, has been reading his account of his years as a missionary in Africa. Members had earlier applauded his plan to "get his experiences on paper," but what he had recorded was basically a list of facts. The dates he served in Africa, the locations, what he was assigned to do-but no color, no emotion, nothing of his feelings about what he was doing. We had tried-pretty much in vain-to get him to put himself and his personal reactions into his writing.

Then, we heard John read his memoir. He joined the group some weeks after Douglas. What John read that evening, his experience (also set in Africa) "showed, rather than told us." He reported the unusual customs of the people he met, the way they had incorporated into their native dialect portions of French, English and Italian words, brought by missionaries and Peace Corp volunteers. He described a curious vertical, mud-packed mound that turned out to be a tomb. His account told of his attachment to an elderly man, the village patriarch, and the heartbreak of a young member of the village who had become so attached to a Peace Corps volunteer that he trotted after her departing vehicle for a two hours before returning to his village.

After hearing John's work, Douglas said, "I have really learned something. Now I understand what the group has been trying to tell me."

I have been leading writer workshops for more than 40 years and find these far more valuable than what I call the "umbrella" groups-those large organizations requiring a president, secretary, treasurer, newsletter editor, and program coordinator. The umbrella groups certainly have their function-and a good one. They bring editors, publishers, multi-published writers to monthly meetings for addresses to the group. I am a member of several of these and attend their monthly meetings as often as possible. They range in membership from 50 to 100. But in my experience, the smaller groups-the workshops-that meet in homes, in the corner of a book store or the library, with a membership of five to ten men and women, are where the real writing work takes place and where help is realized. My five groups meet twice a month, each. I provide members with printouts of market lists, articles from writer magazines and contest information. My charge is $2 per member per meeting. This covers my printer ink and paper. I do not charge for my time as the rewards to me are worth whatever time I share in the workshops. I do editing for an hourly fee, but limit such lest they rob me of time I want to spend on my own manuscripts.

In only one of the groups do I read my own manuscripts. This group is composed of writers who have published books. At each gathering members read a chapter of a work in progress. Besides evaluating, in turn, each manuscript read, we share info on publishers and agents. These gatherings provide me with as much "social" contact as I want or have time for. The five groups total about 35 members, and I limit the size of any group to eight participants. Members often refer to our meetings as "classes." However, I don't feel that I am teaching. I'm only leading them to greater self-and-creative discoveries. Although we do critique each others' work, I have never called these "critique groups." The word "critique" seems to put off some potential participants. Once becoming a participant, a member finds he is as much help to his fellows as the others are to him.

I have arrived at a time in my life when, having reared three birth children, two husbands, and shared in the rearing of five step children, I am free to do whatever I want, day after day. And this is to write, submit, read, learn, write and write and submit and submit more. I have never suffered from "writer's block," nor do I ever feel the fabled loneliness purported to be the "dark hole" for writers. The workshops not only benefit the other participants, I, too, gain from them. Each member presents a window into a life and experiences that inform and enlighten me. They inspire me to go back to my files for that "gem" on which I can put a new lead or new title and send out again to seek its fortune.

© Copyright 2008, Willma Willis Gore

At age 87, Willma Gore is still writing daily (having sold her first article at age 19) with her most recent book Long Distance Grandparenting, released by an advance/royalty publisher in Nov. 2007. She welcomes visits to her blog and website: http://willmagore.com/blog/ www.willmagore.com

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