Introduction to Bearlodge Writers
(adapted from our anthology In the Shadow of the Bear Lodge: Writings from the Black Hills, 2006)
Rising from the grassy floor of the Great Plains of western South Dakota and northeastern Wyoming are the Black Hills, home of legend and mystery. Known to the Lakota Indians as Paha Sapa, these hills include the Bear Lodge Mountains and Devils Tower—Mato Tipila, or Bear Lodge. The work read at the Bearlodge Writers’ table draws not only from this ancient landscape, but reaches beyond it around the nation, around the world, and into fantasy.
The Bearlodge Writers (BLW) have been meeting twice a month in Sundance, Wyoming, since 1979. The Hills have drawn us from different directions, and we come from different vocations, as well. But we are all writers, and aspire to contribute to the world of literature.
We encourage and support one another in our writing endeavors, help each other improve our work, share information, and provide workshops and writing retreats. By drawing on the fine-tuned balance within the group, and with deep respect for one another’s work, we produce poetry, essays, articles, columns, novels, nonfiction books, and short stories. Our published work ripples outward—regionally, nationally, internationally.
Here, in the shadow of the Bear Lodge, we live close to the elements, letting nature and the land nurture us and settle into our bones. Through the pleasure and power of words, we discover joy, beauty, sanity and serenity, guidance, deep connection . . . and sometimes triumph.
We continue to meet twice a month at the Crook County Library (414 Main Street) in Sundance, Wyoming. The first half hour of each meeting is dedicated to discussion: BLW business, marketing and publishing information, upcoming conferences and workshops, etc., and we share successes and rejections. We try to begin reading and critiquing at 11:30 a.m.
Writers who bring work to the BLW table to be critiqued each draw a domino for reading order. Some meetings we will have many readers, others, just a few. We ask readers to bring copies of their work to pass out at the table, so listeners can follow along, and make notes on the copies, which are given back to the author. The time allotted each piece may vary depending on how many readers are at a particular meeting, but generally, a reader may bring for critique one or two poems, or one essay, or one chapter from a longer work.
Many of us bring our lunch to the meetings with us, and we always have a variety of teas, snacks, and chocolate to share. We have no formal dues structure—instead we have a little red tin can into which members put spare change or a dollar or two each meeting, which we use to buy the all-important chocolate which fuels many a meeting.
Bearlodge Writers is open to those who are looking for a serious literary critique group to attend on a regular basis. We welcome all types of writing and writers at all levels.
Following is the Bearlodge Writers philosophy, answering the question "What makes a good writers' group?"
If we had to answer in one word, we would say, respect, and that includes trust.
Respect for the writer. The writer comes as a pilgrim, bearing an offering. Whether the writer be prince (experience/published) or pauper (brand new beginner), he is granted the respect of willing attention and receipt of the critique he desires, whether it be “Does this work? Are the characters believable?” or a complete pre-pub edit. This includes respect for the writer’s emotions—a willingness to laugh or cry along with him.
Respect for the piece. To place the offering on the table/altar requires an act of faith by the writer. This is met by the respect of serious consideration and gentle but honest critique, focusing on the merits of the piece itself, the type of critique desired, and the intent of the writer. It is never the group’s purpose to change the intent, but to clarify, to suggest, and to encourage.
Respect for the group. Each writer brings to the group his respect for its function and for the other members, making sure each one has time for his work to be discussed, is willing to give his thoughtful critique or expertise, and holds sacred within the group whatever revelations might be shared. Because of the mutual trust within the group, there is no “competition". Everyone has the same goal—to make each other’s work the best it can be.
And of course, pass the chocolate.
Bearlodge Writers etiquette and ethics include such pithy instructions as "Shut up and read the crap!" (don’t waste time making excuses), and the vitally important "Pass the chocolate." We’re also known as the Bearlodge Eaters and even the Bearlodge Matchmakers (two members met at a meeting and later married).
Bearlodge Writers is a group of writers, both published and unpublished, who get together to share their love of writing. Our purpose is to:
encourage and support each other in our writing endeavors provide feedback, as requested, on our work
disseminate information of interest to writers
promote networking among writers
enjoy the company and fellowship of other writers
Bearlodge Writers etiquette:
share, rather than instruct
with new writers, offer critique sparingly, encouragement plentifully
be conscious of time available and number of people to read—if necessary, take formal steps to avoid monopolization of reading time by one person
observe professional ethics*
-When contacting a market, editor, or agent, never use another writer’s name without permission.
- Pass the chocolate.
maintain confidentiality—writing can be an intensely personal activity. We sometimes share with the group stories or feelings that we hesitate to share even at home or with loved ones. It’s understood that what is shared with the group goes no further and is not repeated outside of the group, until such time as the writer chooses to go public with his\her work.