By Beth Burgmeyer
I am thrilled to say that the Des Moines Writers’ Workshop is well into its third year. We have a fantastic group of dedicated writers who all want to help each other become the best writers we can be.
The idea for this critique group was born almost four years ago after I attended an intensive week-long workshop at Iowa City’s Summer Writing Festival. Being a part of that workshop was an eye opening experience, to say the least. I’d written my first novel inside of my little bubble, but I knew I needed to have other people see it before I queried agents. I thought I had a decent manuscript, but I wanted to make it was as good as it could possibly be. Little did I know how little I knew about the writing world. The workshop in Iowa City was the first step on a long road to learning to be a stronger writer. I’m still learning.
That fall, I attended the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference where I participated in two critique groups led by literary agents. Those critique groups were even more eye opening. As hard as it was to hear some of the feedback, I knew I needed to hear it to become a better writer. I came back to Iowa determined to find an intensive critique group. There were a few casual critique groups in which writers could show up and read a few pages out loud and get some feedback, but there were no critique groups that gave writers a workshop experience. My husband kept telling me to start my own critique group, but I didn’t know enough writers in the Des Moines area.
I went to some local writing groups just to meet other authors, but many of those writers weren’t interested in joining a critique group. Some of them had had bad experiences in critique groups, others were content to write on their own. Then, almost two years ago, I went to a meeting of the Saturday Writers to find the room filled with people. Normally the Saturday Writers is a smaller group—a nice, casual group where writers get together and talk about writing. When we went around the room and introduced ourselves, I mentioned that I wanted to find a good critique group. Several other writers in the room were also interested in a critique group. That was the day the Des Moines Writers’ Workshop was born.
We still have some of our core, founding members. Some have moved away, but still stay in touch. We’ve had members take a break and then come back, but the one constant is the quality of our group. We have a fantastic group of writers who truly want to help each other become better writers. We give honest feedback, but never criticize. Our motto is: “Critique, yes…Criticize, no.” We spend as much time giving positive feedback as we do giving critiques/suggestions.
There are no big egos, no attention seeking people, just hard working, down to earth writers trying to become better writers. We have an eclectic group of published writers, indie writers, and traditionally published writers. Some members are working on their first manuscript while others are working on their seventh or eighth novel. We’ve cheered each other on when someone publishes a book or gets a manuscript request from an agent. And we’re there for each other during the rejections and the other harsh realities of the writing world.
I can’t speak for the other writers in the group, but I know I’m a much stronger writer because of the feedback I’ve received from the group. I feel blessed to be a part of this group and to be a part of each member’s writing journey.
It’s been exciting to see the growth in our group and I look forward to many more great things to come from our writers. This year we’ve expanded our groups and opened them up to the public. Within the next year we’d like to put together a small writers’ retreat.
I’ll close this post with a heartfelt thanks to all of the writers who have ever been a part of the Des Moines Writers’ Workshop.
*Update 4-22-16: It’s been almost a year since I’ve written this blog post and so much has happened since then. We’ve grown from having one critique group to four critique groups. We had our first retreat last fall and we’re planning a bigger one this fall. A panel of our authors is going to make a presentation with the Wonder of Words festival in Des Moines. Looking forward, we want to offer intensive weekend workshops to the public in the spring of 2017, but our biggest aspiration is to host a national writing conference here in Des Moines, where we’ll bring in agents, editors from all over the United States.