By Susan T. Hessel  

Who can write?

“Anyone can write,” said Jess Witkins, one of the leaders in the 2nd annual Great River Writes program offering writing workshops and author talks from Oct. 27 to Dec. 9 in La Crosse and Winona. “Population 485” author Michael Perry, a Wisconsin native, is among the speakers.

The program is designed to bring out your inner writer, whether you are a professional, rank amateur with words within you waiting to come out, or someone in between. 

“I love this time of year and encouraging writers new and old is what makes it fun,” said Witkins, a program organizer and president of Women Writers Ink. “It’s always been a part of our mission for people to tell their stories, and how we can learn and make sense about the world around us through stories.”

She added, “Lots of people have a desire to write and need someone who tells them they can, who validates them.”

Since 1998, Women Writers Ink (WWINK) has been a supportive community for women who want to write. Twice a month they come together to write and share their words. Great River Writes is open to men, women, and persons of all ages.

In 2017, WWINK co-sponsored the first Great River Writes with the La Crosse Public Library, Winona Public Library, River Arts Alliance, La Crosse Area Writers Group, and National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). NaNoWriMo encourages participants to attempt to write a 50,000-word manuscript between Nov. 1 and Nov. 30 each year.

Barry McKnight, La Crosse Public Library programming and community engagement coordinator, said the La Crosse library was always supportive of NaNoWriMo but found participation declining. “We talked about ways to change that dynamic,” he said. “We created a monthlong program that focuses on writing in general, from a work of fiction, or nonfiction like a family history.”

“You don’t have to do NaNoWriMo to attend our events,” Witkins said. “We bring a variety of services for writers of fiction or nonfiction. We have something for everyone.”

In 2018, sponsorship expanded to include the UW-L English department. Among this year’s events is an editing workshop called Kill Your Darlings, Resurrect Your Manuscript: The Art and Craft of Editing.

 “Since the process of revision is where good writers devote most of their time, we thought we’d focus on one important aspect of that process—the role of editing,” said Matthew Cashion, a UW-L English professor who will present the workshop with UW-L assistant English professor Bryan Kopp and editor Reggie McLeod of Big River magazine. 

“We’ll discuss some strategies that will help train our eyes and ears to sharpen our sentences and we’ll encourage writers to develop a sense of courage and ruthlessness to cut whatever’s not working,” Cashion added.

Other topics in that session include good beginnings; a live, interactive editing exercise; and a critique of the first page of participants’ manuscripts. 

Other events include: 

  • Great River Writes Kickoff: From Fact to Fiction with Dean Klinkenberg, 1 p.m., Oct. 27, at La Crosse Public Library
  • NaNoWriMo Creative Writing and Local Author Fair, 10 a.m., Nov. 3, at Winona Public Library 
  • Living Between Two Rivers: Personal Stories and Prayer Flags with Author Wang Ping, 11 a.m., Nov. 10, at Winona Public Library 
  • Kill Your Darlings, Resurrect Your Manuscript: The Art and Craft of Editing, 1 p.m., Nov. 17, at La Crosse Public Library
  • From Page to Stage: How to Prepare, Perfect, and Present Your Work Out Loud, 2 p.m., Nov. 18, at Island City Brewery in Winona 
  • Great River Writes Presents Author Michael Perry, 1 p.m., Dec. 1, at La Crosse Public Library 
  • 2nd Annual Great River Writes Celebration and Open Mic, 3 p.m., Dec. 9, at Turtle Stack Brewery in La Crosse

McKnight looks forward to the workshop From Page to Stage: How to Prepare, Perfect, and Present Your Work Out Loud. “Not everyone is comfortable reading their work in front of a large audience of people,” he said. “We work on performance.”

“It’s a variety of programs and not just in one community,” McKnight said. “The goal is to help people wherever they are in their writing.” 

Cashion, who is proud to count Witkins among his former students, added, “This event really increases the good reputation
La Crosse already enjoys for being a vibrant literary community.”

For more information on other available workshops included in this writing program, find Great River Writes on Facebook.