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Published: Sunday, 4/13/2003

Writers united

BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The pen may be mightier than the sword, but those who brandish it do so in solitude. Occasionally, they need the company of other word warriors.

The Northwest Ohio Writers Forum, the oldest group of its kind in the area, has inspired, buoyed, and informed hundreds of people for 20 years.

“We applaud when people get something published,” said Jan Sheely, president. “People are really encouraged when they see one of our members get published.”

Its popular monthly meetings at branch libraries on Saturday mornings feature talks on many topics: magazine articles, for example, or short stories, romance, sci-fi, poetry, history, and memoirs. Some speakers know how to get things published; some may explain nuances in the tax code that apply to freelance writers.

The forum celebrates its 1983 beginning Saturday with a lunch at Ciao restaurant in Sylvania. Keynote speaker will be the humorous Norm Richards, one of the group's founders. Richards has written 22 books, most with historical or biographical themes for young people (The Story of Monticello, The Story of the Mayflower Compact, Robert Frost, Cowboy Movies).

The group began after Richards addressed an association of business communicators and met Bob Byler, then a professor at Bowling Green State University.

“He said it would be great to get people interested in writing, to have speakers that would teach people about how to get things published. So I agreed to take over,” said Richards in a telephone interview from his home south of Pittsburgh.

He had written and edited corporate magazines. “I knew the practical part of presenting your work to editors in the best light,” he said.

He began cranking out a newsletter, and in a few years the group had 100 members.

“It really helps freelancers to talk things over and see the common obstacles and hear how others resolve them,” said Richards, who met his wife, Robin, at the group.

From years of freelance writing, Richards has learned some shortcuts. When you're writing well, don't stop when at the end of a chapter. If you keep going and make a dent in the next chapter, it will be easier to resume.

Also invaluable is a schedule. He produced about one page of nonfiction an hour. By committing to two hours a night after work, he'd accumulate 10 pages at the end of a week. On weekends, he might churn out another 10 pages.

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Like other long-standing groups, the forum has ebbed and flowed depending on how much time its leaders devote to it. About three years ago, it had 20 members, but 69 people now pay the $25 annual dues.

Toledoan Mel Barger, who joined the group in 1983, has written seven books, including a coffee table-style book about Toledo and one about the Landing Ship Tanks (LSTs) of World War II.

A book he wrote on daily meditation has sold more than 15,000 copies. “Even writing for a church bulletin is something,” said Barger, who is retired from corporate communications.

David Noel, the group's secretary, wrote Information Revolution: A History of Library Services in Toledo and Lucas County. His current project is a history of the local Jewish community.

Especially interesting, he said, have been discussions about electronic publishing, which can include putting part of a book, such as a collection of photographs that would be expensive to reproduce on paper, on compact disc instead.

“I'd encourage anyone who would like to know more about writing to come as a guest,” said Noel, adding that people can call the Sanger or Sylvania branches of the library and ask if the group's meeting is on their calendar.

Some members gather even before the 10 a.m. meeting to do writing exercises. And the forum has a separate critique group, at which people read something they've written and then listen to suggestions from the others.

Linda Tippett and her late husband wanted to meet other writers when they joined the forum 19 years ago. Her husband had recently retired from a writing job, and she was doing a church newsletter. She had written 18 reader's theater-type plays for performance at her church's Lenten services and was working on a book.

“A writer should always attend as many conferences as they can,” she said. “It's fun to write, but marketing is a big pain.”

Tippett also belongs to the Northwest Ohio Christian Writers group, which meets about four times a year in Bowling Green and hosts a seminar, slated for Sept. 27 at Providence Lutheran Church, 8131 Airport Hwy.

Online writer groups, while better than nothing, don't always meet the need for personal interaction. Such a group was less than satisfying for Rita Shake.

“There is a loneliness to writing. You need to get together with people of your kind, who are experiencing the same thing,” she said.

She helped revive the Maumee Valley chapter of the Romance Writers of America, which meets the fourth Saturday of the month at 10 a.m. at various libraries. “We teach, we support, we encourage,” said Shake, president of the group.

Their March topic generated lively discussion: “Sensuality: Is it Sex or Romance?” Their conclusion: “It's a leading up to, the sexual tension where there is never any actual sex,” Shake said.

At Bowling Green State University, a mostly student group meets for writing exercises and critiquing of each other's fiction and poetry every other Monday at 4 p.m. during the academic year at Hanna Hall 108A, said Teresa Milbrodt, the graduate student who coordinates The Writers Group at The Women's Center.

Participants might comment on whether the dialogue moves the action forward or helps develop a character, if a beginning or ending doesn't work, or if a scene seems rushed, said Milbrodt.

“A lot of people don't understand how much hard work creative writing can be,” she said.

Also at BGSU, doctoral students writing lengthy dissertations sometimes form support groups.

Reservations for the Northwest Ohio Writers Forum's Saturday lunch meeting can be made by calling 419-874-5230 by Tuesday.



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