Saturday our Northwest Arkansas Writer’s Workshop critique group held a free writer’s conference in Fayetteville. We were hosted by the kind folks at Ozarks Electric in their community room. It was filled to capacity by some 80 writers, some of whom are published and brought along their books to sell. This is our seventh year to hold a free conference as a way of paying forward for all the help we’ve received in the past.
We try to keep it simple, but we learned after the first few years that if we let people leave for a leisurely lunch, they straggle back in during the first presentation after lunch. That’s when we began bringing in meat and cheese trays and all the fixings and charging a minimal $6 for lunch so we could keep our audience captive. Some of our writers read from their books during that time.
We’ve been fortunate to find writers willing to share their expertise at no charge. This year Molly Lou Belle Lemmons, the storyteller who presents a fabulous workshop, came to give of her time. Everyone enjoyed her presentation enormously. Some of our members helped out with other portions of the program.
Three members helped Dusty Richards present an example of what our critique group does by critiquing three entries such as those we receive during our weekly group meeting.
Jan Morrill presented a handout of the proper manuscript formatting and answered questions for a short while, then Pam Thompson, who is a professional writer and expert grammarian, presented the top 10 grammar mistakes and how to correct them. She put together a humorous and entertaining PowerPoint program to illustrate.
After an enjoyable lunch that included a large half-chocolate, half-white cake that said Welcome Writers in delicious frosting, I spoke on How to aim your writing at the right publications, both fiction and nonfiction, and Dusty capped the day off with his Writing 101 program that is always educational for writers working in all phases of their craft.
Because we have such a dedicated group of members, these conferences go off without a hitch. Everyone pitches in, we serve coffee and rolls to early arrivals and our members help with the set-up as well as the cleanup.
This year we also sponsored entries for an anthology which we will have published by next year’s conference. Everyone who attended the conference is eligible to enter their short story for consideration in the book, Skipping Stones, which will contain 20 of the best short stories entered.
Over the past few years, we’ve all entered short stories in several local anthologies which have been very successful, especially one called Echoes of the Ozarks, which is now up to volume IV, and selling very well. This is a good project for groups of writers to undertake in order to help members get their work out there. These books are sold at conferences where editors and agents often pick up copies.
If you haven’t sent your work to such anthologies, look around and find one. Ozarks Writer’s League sponsors Echoes of the Ozarks for its members; Voices is on its second volume and is handled by an editor and a small publisher in Arkansas and Missouri.
If by chance you attended our free conference, make sure you submit a short story for consideration in our anthology. See our website, for information. Only those who attended the conference are eligible.
There’s no end to what dedicated groups of writers can do if they set their minds to it. Anyone who doesn’t belong to either a critique group or a writer’s organization is missing a good chance to network and share knowledge. If you can’t find one, start a group yourself. Speak to a librarian who might know of other writers interested in such a group, and make sure you list your group at your local libraries as well as on your blog or website.
Our group has been around for 25 years, and Dusty and I are the only original members left, so we sort of run things. We have few rules and collect no dues. Once a year we sponsor a writing contest through Ozark Creative Writers Conference held in Eureka Springs and we collect enough money to do so, plus enough to make a donation to whoever supplies a room in which we can meet.
We have no officers, take no minutes. We only ask that those who want their work critiqued bring 5 double spaced pages to read and take kindly to our critiquing. That no one makes ugly remarks about another’s work, and everyone doesn’t talk at once. We meet every week, and have done so for all those years. Right now our membership consists of 33 members, but they never all attend each week. Our average attendance is 15 each week, which is about right. Perhaps of those eight or nine will read.
Several of our members who weren’t published when they began with us now are. It has taken some dedication on Dusty’s and my part to keep the group going through the years. We”ve also been privileged to attract some talented people who are eager to help. To them we are grateful, for we couldn’t do it by ourselves. One of our newer members created our website, and he keeps it active.
Drop by and visit us if you’re in town.