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Why a Writer Workshop/Critique Group?
by Willma Willis Gore

For 40 years I have founded, led and/or participated in small writer workshops that meet regularly in a home, a library or a bookstore. These have been far more helpful on a steady, on-going basis than all the conferences and lectures I have attended. At these workshops participants find inspiration, encouragement and help in improving their writing.

My first sale at age 19 was to a travel magazine. The editor took my next piece and accepted more than a dozen of my photo-illustrated articles. My sales to more than 75 national and regional journals, publication of seven children’s books, co-author of 12, publication of an adult novel and two nonfiction books testify to the help I have gained from such groups. (I call them “workshops” that rather than “critique groups” because the word “critique” tends to put off people who are searching for help but are fearful criticism will be more damaging than helpful.)

I limit my five workshops to a maximum of eight participants and encourage members to study the markets for short essays, travel, profiles, how-to pieces. No one should give up working on the book of his dreams. However, shorter pieces are easier to sell and provide credits that will demonstrate some publication success when they begin searching for an agent or book publisher. At meetings I provide information on markets gleaned from on-line newsletters: Professional Writers of Prescott’s weekly lists, Writing for DOLLARS!, a paying market, Writers Relief, Working Writer, Jerry Simon’s information-packed WritersReaders.com.

You do not need to be a published writer to lead a workshop. The first group I belonged to was developed by five of us who met at a community college creative writing class. Two were poets, one a short story writer; two were interested in writing nonfiction, as I was. All read widely in a variety of magazines that accepted freelance material. No leader was chosen. We simply agreed on an evening when we could meet in the home of one. We read our work by turns to each other and sought marketing suggestions. The next hostess volunteered at the close of each meeting.

In such gatherings, members help each other with such suggestions as: “You repeated that idea. You need to say it only once.”

“Watch the repeated use of throw-away words such as, “There is, there are, there were.”

One member who subscribes to such magazines as Country Woman or Grit might say, “You should try your article about finding the right country home on one of these magazines.”

I regularly suggest submission to the Home Forum page of The Christian Science Monitor. This liberal newspaper publishes five days a week and pays well for home, garden and food articles as well as short personal experience pieces.

Conferences are good and an editor/presenter at one I attended became the publisher of two of my non-fiction books. However, the help that I have received in the small workshops has been what has encouraged me to write daily, and submit over and over. Much published writers from Jack London and Dorothy Parker to Amy Tan have written and testified to the value of their small groups.

The primary requirements for a workshop are interest, dedication, and willingness to learn. Yes, sometimes an incompatible personality appears. One gal who came to my group, wore an Agent badge to every meeting. She sought members whose work she would edit for a fee. She didn’t read any of her writing, and she incessantly spoke out of turn to offer instructions. To my knowledge she never sold anything she “agented.”

Solution? As leader, I closed that section, pleading “family needs” and launched a “new group” of the compatible members on a day the “Agent’s” job kept her engaged. “There are many ways to skin a cat,” as my farmer father used to say—(or to lead a writer workshop).

© 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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