Beth Burgmeyer writes upmarket and women’s fiction. She loves to write about real life, about characters who are struggling with serious, life changing issues. Beth has several completed manuscripts and is starting the process of querying literary agents. Several of her manuscripts have finaled and placed in both national and local writing contests. Beth lives near Des Moines, Iowa with her family and a menagerie of rescue pets.
I had a great time this week talking to Beth Burgmeyer one of the founders of Des Moines Writer’s Workshop(I am a member of one of her critique groups). She offers some great advice and reveals some details of her writing methods. Enjoy!
What is your writing habit? Are you a first thing in the morning write 1000 words, lunch breaks, up till midnight?
Beth – I tend to feel the most creative at night, so that’s when I do most of my writing. I’m one of those people who, while trying to fall asleep, gets hounded by my characters or sometimes I have a breakthrough, which means I sit up and start writing again. I’ve learned to keep a notebook by my bed so I can write down snippets of dialogue or plot that comes to me when I’m trying to fall asleep.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Beth – I have always been, and will probably always be a pantser. I start with a basic idea and some characters and a general idea of where the novel might go. I know there are some drawbacks to being a pantser, but I love it when the story starts to unfold in ways I never imagined. I especially love it when characters end up taking me on a journey that was much better than where I’d intended to take them.
Tell me about a character you’ve written that surprised you.
Beth – Two characters from my second manuscript, The Broken Road, completely took me by surprise. They were both supposed to be side characters who were in the novel to add some conflict. These two characters really came to life and took over the story and led me on an incredible journey that was so much better than what I’d originally planned. I ended up rewriting the novel with them as the main characters. I hope to start querying it soon.
Of course writing is dream job #1, what is dream job #2?
Beth – Dream job number two is a complete fantasy, but I love music and love to play the guitar, so being a singer/songwriter would be dream job number two (although I’m not very good at songwriting).
You are very active in our local writing community, can you tell me where the Des Moines Writer’s Workshop came from?
Beth – After I wrote my first novel, I knew I needed feedback from other writers, so I took my manuscript to one of the intensive weeklong workshops through the University of Iowa’s Summer Writing Festival. It was definitely intensive and painful and wonderful all at the same time. I learned so much about what I was doing right and the many many many things I wasn’t doing so well. That fall, I went to the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers conference in Denver and participated in two critique groups that were led by literary agents. Getting feedback from experts in the industry was another eye-opening, hard-core learning experience.
As hard as some of the feedback was to hear, I knew it was making me a much better writer, so I searched for an intensive critique group or workshop in the Des Moines area. There were a few nice informal critique groups, but nothing like what I was looking for. People kept telling me to start my own group but I didn’t know enough writers. It took another year and a half, but I finally met enough other writers who wanted the same kind of workshop experience. We’ve modeled our groups after the Iowa City workshops and intensive critique groups offered at national writing conferences. Thanks to all of the dedicated writers who’ve been involved in our critique groups, the Des Moines Writers Workshop is in its third year and it continues to grow.
Are you waiting to write something that for whatever reason you don’t think you’re ready to write yet?
Beth – My current work in progress is a big undertaking that I wasn’t sure I was ready to write. It deals with some pretty major hot button issues, but I felt compelled to write about it. It deals with issues of race and social injustice and some of the hot-button racial issues happening in today’s world. I’ve had some people who’ve encouraged me to write it and some people who’ve discouraged me from writing it. One reason I think I can write this novel is that it’s character driven, so I’m writing about these issues as my characters see them, not how I see these issues.
What is the best piece of writing knowledge you’ve gained?
Beth – I’ve learned so much over the past five years since I started writing seriously. I learned about a lot of the common mistakes newer writers make and I’ve learned so much from veteran writers and agents and editors. But the best piece of advice I’ve learned isn’t anything technical. I think one of the most important things for all writers to do is to trust your gut when it comes to your novel. As fantastic as good critique groups are, sometimes the feedback can be a little overwhelming, especially if you’re new to critique groups.
There have been times I’ve struggled with feedback and have wrestled with whether or not to make certain changes. When this happens, I take a few days, or sometimes a few weeks, and work it around in my head. I always hit a certain point when I know in my gut whether or not I should change something. So trust your gut and make sure your novel is still your novel when you’re done with it.
One other quick piece of advice: don’t always play it safe. Take risks.
What are you working on right now?
Beth – Right now I’m trying to balance final edits on one novel, querying another novel, and writing a new novel. My current work in progress is about two people who are on opposite sides of the religious/political/social spectrum who meet and change each other’s’ lives. Eva Maddox, a twenty-two-year-old conservative Christian meets liberal freelance journalist, Jackson Journey, on opposite sides of an LGBT rally. It’s set against the backdrop of the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Freddie Gray—Jackson is writing a series of articles about their deaths.
It’s really a journey of self-discovery for Eva who is biracial but was adopted and raised by a white family who didn’t acknowledge her African American heritage. She struggles with the inner conflict of who she used to be and who she’s now becoming. If she changes too much, she risks losing her family and her church.
Where can we find your writing?
Beth – Right now I have the first few chapters of three of my novels posted on my website bethburgmeyer.com. You can find the chapters under the Books menu.
Here are links to Beth on the web: