Takeaways from Des Moines Writers’ Day

No matter what profession you’re in or what hobbies you pursue, connecting with like-minded people in your area can help you grow in so many ways. Writing – whether you pursue it as a profession or hobby – is a job done mostly in solitude. It’s easy for us writers to get too comfortable at our own desks.

Sometimes, that solitude can drive you crazy. You need to know there are other people like you out there. You need that motivation to surge on in your writing.author panel

This is why I was excited to hear about Des Moines Writers’ Day, a workshop and networking event put on by the Iowa Writers’ House at the end of January. A literary center established in Iowa City, the Iowa Writers’ House delivered three 1-hour workshops, hosted a panel of 8 published authors from Iowa, and brought together a network of writers from all around the metro in one literary community. What an amazing way to spend a Saturday! (says the passionate writing nerd….)

Speaking with other writers and hearing from published authors taught me quite a bit about my own writing process in terms of what’s working and what could use improvement. Here are a few takeaways I got from Des Moines Writers’ Day.

5 Things I Learned at Des Moines Writers’ Day

Networking with other people in my field not only taught me about how I can improve in my profession but also some valuable skills I need to work on in general. While most of the takeaways I’ll share here are writing-related, the first one can apply to networking events for any profession.

1. Be confident in your introduction

I get nervous meeting new people, especially in group settings. My heart rate skyrockets when I introduce myself. And then I spend the rest of the time thinking over my introduction, wishing I would have said something else.

My husband has mastered this. He makes freight planning sound like something you wish you were doing! I’ve found myself turning to him when someone asks me what I do. I start mumbling about blogging and writing, and turn to Kyle to fill in the blanks.

Well, Kyle sure as heck was not at Des Moines Writers’ Day. When I introduced myself to my workshop group, I mumbled out some words about freelance writing and the short story collection I’m working on. I looked down at the table and waited for the next person to go. The rest of the people at the table, all older and wiser than I, spoke confidently about themselves and delivered nice little elevator pitches of what they do. I wanted to go speak to each one afterward because they all had something interesting going on that intrigued me.

So, why do I shy away from the interesting aspects of my job? I love my job and most people think it’s pretty cool when they finally hear what exactly I do. Networking events are great for meeting other people who you want to connect with, but to get other people interested in what you provide, you have to nail your own introduction.

Tip: Kyle gave me a podcast episode to check out on the subject of introducing yourself. Check it out – it’s a winner!

2. Write in a voice you’re comfortable in

Andrea Wilson, the founder of the Iowa Writers’ House, led the workshop I participated in, which was more of a discussion among writers. We talked about what we were working on, what our processes are like and what struggles we have in our writing. Our group contained writers of all types – novelists, bloggers, even a journalism professor from Drake University.

Since our group varied in the forms of writing we do, Andrea brought up the importance of voice in both fiction and nonfiction. She brought up a valuable lesson that I need to remind myself of in my work:

“You don’t want to lose your voice when writing for others. Don’t wash your voice out of the piece.”

So often I get caught up in matching the business’s brand and voice that I forget how I would write the article, how I would tell the story to tell someone else. Nonfiction writers and business writers have to train themselves on adapting to different voices, but that doesn’t mean we have to completely mask our own voice. We have to bring something unique to the content we write. If we don’t bring an originality factor, we imply that anyone could write it. That unique element comes from our voice.

The same goes for fiction. Andrea emphasized that the most important thing in fiction is the point of view. While we may write about characters who are nothing like us, we have to pull from who we are to find a voice we’re comfortable writing in.

“Writing is a reflection of the self onto the page.”

– Andrea Wilson, the Iowa Writers’ House

3. Study your own life to enhance your writing

A good story has tension, which was another hot topic in our workshop. To create more tension in your novel, Andrea recommended studying the tension in your own life. How does it feel when your spouse leaves every cupboard and drawer in the kitchen open? (Totally hypothetical 😉) Or when the car won’t start and you’re running late?

Draw upon real life to inform your writing. Listen to conversations around you. Hear the dialogue and vocabulary. Be incredibly observant and spill your observations onto your writing.

4. Stay engaged with your project every day

The main takeaway I gathered from the panel of published Iowa authors was to be persistent with and committed to your writing project.

They wrote their books while working full time or raising kids. They showed up for their writing every day no matter what. They stuck with it and had unwavering faith through every rejection, and now here they were on a panel telling us about they got published.

Listening to these authors was mind-blowing in the sense that they were so real. Right in front of me was a table full of published authors, and most of them live right here in Des Moines. They didn’t have to be J.K. Rowling or Jodi Picoult – but they were all exactly what I want to be, a published author.

5. Journal about the story of your day

Andrea shared a tip for journaling that makes it fun, reflective and productive. If you journal at the end of the day, reflect on your day and think about it as a story. What did the day mean? What was the theme of your day? Write the story arch of your day in your journal.

I love this because it gives you a good place to start on your blank page. It makes you become more insightful about your day and it’s productive as a way of practicing your story telling.

More from the Iowa Writers’ House

The Iowa Writers’ House is a community support system for writers. The organization hosts workshops, programs and networking events.

It’s also a B&B for writers! The actual house in Iowa City has two rooms available for guests to book along with two parlors, a sunroom, formal dining room and a library filled with Advanced Reader and signed copies. The perfect writer getaway would be to attend one of their workshops and stay at the house – there’s nothing to preserve your writing focus like being surrounded by literary-everything!

Overall, the Des Moines Writers’ Day was an excellent way to meet even more writers in the area while also seeing some of my friends from the Des Moines Writers’ Workshop. The event helped me realize important things about myself, my writing process and what I need to do to progress in my writing and hopefully, one day, be up there on the panel of published authors.

Are you a part of a writers’ community? Share your experience by leaving a comment!

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