By Michelle Chalkey
To be a writer is to put yourself out there in a vulnerable way. I’ve always been shy and a little bit scared to do anything outside of my comfort zone. I’ve also always been a writer of sorts. It didn’t take long to realize these two things don’t work together, but it took years until I decided to do something about it.
The Des Moines Writers’ Workshop is not only helping me break out of my shell, but the conversations around writing happen to be what I needed for a number of reasons. In the short time I’ve belonged to the Workshop, this is what I’ve found to be beneficial:
1. Admitting to my writing
For many writers who are just breaking into their craft, myself included, it’s hard to call yourself a writer. It’s hard for me to talk to others about my writing and to admit that I have these ideas and I spend time writing about them. When I attended a write-in and met the group, the first question Beth asked me was what kind of writing I do. I’ve been asked this question before from people who are mildly curious, but I had never been asked by another writer. I realized right away that my answer was going to mean something to her, that I didn’t need to sugar coat it or dress it up to sound like anything other than what it was.
I like the young adult genre. I write short stories. I have an idea for a novel. For the first time, I am confident to say all of those things.
The other writers in the group are working on novels. They have finished pages, chapters even whole drafts of their novels. The fact that they are so far along and confident in their writing doesn’t intimidate me as a newcomer, it inspires me. When I read their work and hear them talk about it, I think, this is where I want to be. I want to get to the point where I have chapters to share and I will share them with pride. This workshop, I firmly believe, will help me get there.
3. Face-to-face Time with other writers
I don’t come from a family of writers, nor do my fiance or the majority of my friends partake in creative writing. It can be a lonely world having this dream and passion centered around something that other people just don’t relate to. Attending the write-ins and critique groups have been great for getting face-to-face time with other people who share this passion for creative writing. It is amazing to just talk to these people, share any thoughts or concerns I’m having about something in the field, bounce ideas off them, hear what they have to say. Even the emails throughout the month are encouraging and reassuring that I’m not alone in this journey.
4. Accountability to get work done
Having other people counting on you to turn in so many words by a certain date is a sure fire way to get your butt in the chair and get to writing. We have weekly word count goals and of course the monthly critique group. Each month is a fresh opportunity to get some new writing done and have it ready to be critiqued.
5. Honest feedback
I’m getting feedback from people who are truly looking to help me be the best writer I can be. They, too, are writers, and they know their stuff. They see things and catch things that I may not see as the writer. They’re not afraid to point out flaws and provide ways to make it better.
And this was only my first month. I can only imagine where this group will take me and my writing, and I’m equally as excited to see how their novels unfold.
There is no room to grow within your comfort zone, which is why we have to seek elsewhere and let ourselves be vulnerable with our writing.