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