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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
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 childrens 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 Prescotts weekly lists, Writing
for DOLLARS!, a paying market, Writers
Writer, Jerry Simons 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 didnt 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 Agents 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/
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