Opening Letters

Finding Your Tribe

opportunities abound in the close-knit local writing community

Katie Venit, photos by Michael Lundebrek |

On a Saturday night in February, I slogged through slush to a celebratory reading, the capstone of the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild’s Weekend Writers Retreat at the Oxbow Hotel. Despite the weather, I didn’t want to miss the chance to reconnect with my friend, Christy.

We had bonded the summer before at Cirenaica, another CVWG retreat. She lives in La Crosse, and I haven’t seen her since. When she signed up for the winter retreat, I immediately put the reading on my calendar.

Trailing snow into the Oxbow gallery, I spied Christy sitting at the front. On my way there, I greeted a writer friend sitting towards the back. Then another. Then a couple more. I also happened to know the people sitting in front of and behind her. And on my other side.

“Uh,” Christy whispered, “you know a lot of people.”

Since the middle ages, guilds have banded together individuals with a common interest or skill to guarantee their protection and offer opportunities they couldn’t access alone. We may not need protection, but the opportunities are priceless.

“Well, I live here,” I said. But then I realized that wasn’t it at all. Let’s be realistic – my brand is 80 percent smiling awkwardly and avoiding eye contact with strangers, unless I’m with my people, and the gallery was filled with my people. We had met through writerly events, where we exchanged tips on lit mags, conferences, word counts, word processing software, bullet journals, pens. Oh, the glorious conversations about pens! (Ask me about the UWEC Foundation pens.)

That’s when I finally understood the “guild” part of Chippewa Valley Writers Guild. B.J. Hollars (CVWG founder) has coaxed, prodded, and molded this surly crew, many of whom are committed introverts, into a tribe, so much so that we’re no longer reliant on CVWG events to connect. It’s not just B.J.’s writers guild anymore; it’s ours. He’s done a ton of work, but we’ve contributed by toiling over manuscripts to share, committing to weekends away, and networking with other members. Some of us have also taken the lead in starting our own writerly events, such as Jan Carroll with her 6x6 reading series. Sitting in that gallery, I finally understood why he named it – named us – a guild and not something board-roomy like association. Since the middle ages, guilds have banded together individuals with a common interest or skill to guarantee their protection and offer opportunities they couldn’t access alone. We may not need protection, but the opportunities are priceless. 

I often blather on – sometimes in this very space – about community; this region feeds that need by offering a ton of choices. Runners can find encouragement with the Chippewa Valley Trail Runners Facebook group  and Blue Ox’s weekly runs. Gamers can gather at Eau Claire Games & Arcade or D20 Gaming. Churches offer coffee hour after services, bars offer open mic nights, and the Eau Claire Area Master Gardeners offer seminars. But even writers, those of us embarking on that most solitary of pursuits, can be part of a tribe.

For example, writers can attend the CVWG’s Priory Writers’ Retreat this summer (applications are open until April 31 at CVWG also offers free craft talks throughout the year. Free! As in, you show up, a seasoned writer shares his or her invaluable experience, you take notes in a bullet journal with one of your magnificent pens, and you leave inspired and maybe with a few ideas.

Need more convincing? Let’s say you have trouble committing to butt-in-chair time. Come to Writers Anonymous, a drop-in gathering at SHIFT Cyclery & Coffee Bar where writers sit, write, and don’t talk. If this “study hall for adults” format sounds appealing, that may be your tribe.

Maybe your Achilles’ heel is revision. Join one of the writing groups listed in the directory on the CVWG website to get actionable feedback on an actual piece that you’ve written.

Or, maybe you want to learn more about the publication process. Barstow and Grand, the Valley’s literary journal, rotates many of its reader positions every year. My time as a reader was invaluable to help me understand the editorial side of publications. You can also submit something to be considered for the next issue when applications open in the spring.

CVWG isn’t the only writerly game in town. Among the huge variety of choices, you could check out workshop opportunities at public libraries or readings such as Karen Loeb’s Writers Read. Bruce Taylor hosts the Off the Page series at Volume One. Clear Water Comedy is a powerhouse for spoken word performance. Even unexpected venues have been hosting craft talks. (Check out 200 Main’s craft talk series. They have a wine vending machine.)

OK, yes, you may have to slog through some questionable weather, but that’s the best way to find your tribe, whatever your interests are. And who knows, we writers may be your people. Especially if you have strong opinions about pens.