Recap: Winter Writers’ Weekend at The Oxbow

A public reading was just part of February's Winter Writing Weekend at The Oxbow Hotel.

A public reading was just part of February's Winter Writing Weekend at The Oxbow Hotel.

By Karissa Zastrow

During the first weekend in February, the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild held their first Winter Writers Weekend at The Oxbow Hotel in downtown Eau Claire. Utilizing the gallery, all writers were checked in and ready to go bright and early Saturday morning. During the introduction, B.J. Hollars described how writing should be, in the words of Ray Bradbury, like “jumping off a cliff and building your wings on the way down.”  This means starting with any idea and seeing where it takes you. In the end, you might not be anywhere near where you started, but you created something as you went and build off that initial idea. 

The goal of the day, was to create something brand new to present at the reading that evening. To help writers, B.J. Hollars introduced the FIB technique when working on smaller pieces:

• Focus- Depth is better than length, so focus on a singular scene.
• Image Driven- Strive for specificity. Make it a cherry coke, not a just a coke.
• Bold- Show what is happening; don’t tell. 

Using this technique, the writers had a full morning of writing prompts to get their creative juices flowing. Writers were given about 20 minutes to focus on each of the 5 writing prompts. Between activities, writers had a chance to share what they wrote. The wide range of writing prompts produced great ideas and, in some cases, pushed writers out of their comfort zone. 

After exercising their brains and taking a break to eat lunch at The Lakely, the writers had a little over two hours to work on their piece for their workshop later. Sprawling out over the first floor of The Oxbow and The Lakely, writers filled the nooks and crannies while creating something that would be revised and presented later in the evening. Whispered conversations turned into the sound of clacking keys as everyone got to work. 

Once everyone had a piece they were comfortable with and sent their piece out to their workshop group, the attendees split up, ready to start the revision process. Each person had about 15 to 20 minutes for their piece to be workshopped. First, the writers would read their piece out loud to the group. Then while the group gave feedback, the writer stayed silent, except to answer questions the group had at the end. Once their time was up, it was on to the next piece.

CVWG Director BJ Hollars

CVWG Director BJ Hollars

When the workshop session was over, there was a break for writers to get dinner and work on their piece before the reading in the gallery that night. Some rushed off to go get food, while others went straight to their rooms to polish their pieces. At 7 p.m. the writers and audience members gathered in the gallery, which was now set up with rows of chairs, ready to house the reading. With only standing room left, the reading kicked off with special guest, Bruce Taylor. For the next two hours, the writers showcased what they created that day—poems, stories, memories, and even a short play. After each writer presented their piece, they had the opportunity to record their piece for the Blugold radio. Once the reading was over, the writers celebrated their successes with drinks and jazz at The Lakely.

The next morning, the writers reconvened in The Lakely for breakfast before the final and educational session. Featuring Joey McGarvey from Milkweed Editions, a publishing company based in the Twin Cities, the writers learned valuable information about the publishing process and how to get their work published. The best advice Joey had for the writers was to be aware of what the publishing company is looking for and make sure your piece fits their guidelines and genre. She describes getting a publisher’s attention is like finding a secret password to get you “in.” Sometimes the secret password could be comparing your work to the right author, or sometimes it is in the hook of your work—it all depends on the publisher. 

After a weekend of great people, writing, boundary pushing, and showcasing our work, it was time to say goodbye. All the writers gained something from that weekend, whether it was a piece of writing, new friends, or motivation. I think it’s safe to say, everyone left inspired. I know I will definitely be attending again next winter and I hope to see you there. 

For more information on this summer’s writing residencies at Cirenaica, click here.