Resources for writers in West Virginia

Writing is solitary work, according to Robert Yoho, president of WV Writers, Inc. “But that doesn’t mean it is lonely work,” said Yoho. “Writers are always researching their ideas, sharing their thoughts and encouraging others to write.”

Two resources for writers are the nonprofit WV Writers, Inc., and the West Virginia State Archives.

Founded in 1977, WV Writers, Inc. is an all-volunteer organization with a mission to expand and develop creative writing opportunities by fostering support for writers and coordinating programs throughout the state.

“I work in a 12-by-12-foot building in my backyard,” said Yoho. “I tell my wife I’m headed to the cave when I go to write. That’s why I so appreciate my WV Writers membership.”

“We want to inspire people to write,” he said. “We welcome people who write for their own entertainment as well as professional members.”

The organization’s website, wvwriters.org, provides information about regional and state workshops, competitions and events. A page devoted to writers’ groups includes descriptions and contact information for smaller groups around the state. The Roundtable, an email-based discussion group, is open for discussions, networking and posts of poetry and short pieces.

“Our members enjoy making friends with people who are in different places in their writing careers,” said Yoho. “People encourage you, give you good tips and let you know you aren’t alone. It’s hard to quantify the value, but it is priceless.”

WV Writers, Inc. promotes West Virginia’s literary culture to the public. The group published “Writerly Advice, Tips & Techniques from West Virginia Writers,” and a guide with input from veteran organization members. It has issued anthologies on different writing genres.

“Our annual competition is the state’s largest writing competition and awards cash prizes,” said Yoho. “The New Mountain Voices contest has categories for elementary, middle and high school levels.”

“You hear a lot about how people aren’t reading much anymore,” he said. “At the West Virginia Book Festival, I was excited to see young people at the used book stalls filling their backpacks with books. Everyone won’t become a writer, but no matter what you do in life, being able to read and to write well are important skills.”

You never know what you’ll find

Hank Propst,

You can have Erica Simmons and marry her any time for all I care.

Jennie Simmons (Dec. 28, 1920)

“A writer looking for an idea could have a grand time imagining what caused Jennie to write this note to Hank,” said Joe Geiger, West Virginia State Archives director, as he looked through a folder at the Archives Library in the Culture Center at the State Capitol Complex. “The archives collections are full of gems that writers find helpful as they search for ways to give context to their work.”

While this small note could spark an idea, writers and authors who are searching for background to develop their themes find plenty of help when they research the extensive materials found in the library stacks and online services.

“Often, people who are working on historic or historic fiction projects will come here to find facts they need for their projects,” Geiger said. “They will look through county and state records and deed books for specific information about births, marriages, deaths and property ownership, and even family lineage.”

The State Archives has been collecting and preserving West Virginia records since 1905. Some of its collections go back to the years before West Virginia became a state.

Wirt County records, for instance, go back to the 1800s and include records about the early oil industry. Pendleton County records provide historic background on slave ownership, including names and values of the slaves. In Doddridge County, fishing and hunting licenses from the early 1900s include much more than age, height, weight and hair color; they give researchers a glimpse into the people of the time.

“As an author myself, I know how important it is to be able to give a good picture of the places and people you are writing about,” said Geiger. “Newspapers, diaries and letters can help give manuscript accuracy in terms of spelling, phrases and society. Writers can add substance to their characters by looking at photos and yearbooks that convey the fashions, settings and interests of a time period.”

Geiger said letters and diaries, like those found in the Archives’ World War II collections, offer intimate pictures of the lives and thoughts of soldiers and their families. Other family collections include wills, letters and diaries that give researchers a sense of familiarity with an era.

“Some writers who use the Archives will look at special collections like scrapbooks, political cartoons and even posters,” he said. “The Archives collections can give writers facts and ideas that strengthen the framework of their writing.”

Geiger might even use some of those resources to find out if Hank ever married Erica.