Why I DIY my MFA

DIYMFA-Book-Cover-201x300This summer Gabriela Pereira will be releasing her DIYMFA book. I am super excited for it because I have been a fan of DIYMFA and DIYMFA radio for quite some time. In an effort to boost our excitement about the book’s release Gabriela has asked some of us on her DIYMFA Street Team to answer some questions and share those answers with the world. As with all things in my life, I have been running a little late with these answers, but here’s my stab at question #1.

Question of the Week: Have you ever thought about getting an MFA? If so, did you pursue it? (And what was that experience like?) If not, what have you been doing instead to enhance your writing education?

WHY I DIYMFAAs a former educator, my love affair with school seemed to have no end. I was addicted to education. I stepped out of college, got a job as a teacher, and spent every single summer off in another school of higher education learning more and more and more.

Then I got sick and everything had to stop.

When I was home, recovering, I found my writer’s voice. I began to blog, and stretch myself creatively. I loved what I was doing, but felt like a fraud. I called myself an “aspiring writer” – as if the act of writing itself did not bestow the title upon me. I started to research my educational options – where could I go to become a writer? That was when I learned about MFA programs.

I’d scroll through admissions pages, program descriptions, and I would dream. In between I would fraudulently continue to write – not only on my own blog, but now on other people’s blogs! What was I thinking? At every step I’d think, I have to start applying, but there were so many obstacles – my finances and inconsistent health leading the pack.

I couldn’t stop writing, though. I was drawn to it with such a ferocity. I started reading books about the craft, following writers and becoming friends with writers online, and then I joined writer’s communities. Online I became a member and writer for StoryDam, in “real life” I joined a local writer’s group.

I kept aspiring to be a writer. By writing. Then one day someone on Twitter saw that “aspiring writer” description in my bio and they called me on it. It was in the middle of one of #StoryDam’s weekly chats. The person asked why I wrote that I was an aspiring writer. They asked, “Do you write?”

I said something like, “Well, on my blog, sometimes.”

And they said that they didn’t care if it was on a scrap of paper that no one would ever see. If I wrote, then I was a writer. They explained that I was confusing the term writer with published author.

And they were right.

I started to wonder what else I was confused about. Did I really need an MFA to accomplish my goals? The answer was a resounding no. While I will never rule out anything completely, I can say that I now understand that I was never truly addicted to education – I have been, and always wil be, addicted to learning, and learning can happen anywhere!

So while I wait for my finances to bounce back, my health to cooperate, or my son to be old enough to not need me 24/7, I have found countless ways to create my own writing education through podcasts, books, magazines, and a writing community. Anyone can do it, and you can personalize it your own needs. It’s pretty awesome. Just to give you a taste of where I find these inspirations right now, here are some of my favorite resources in each of those categories:

PODCASTS FOR WRITERS

  • DIYMFA radio – obviously one of my favorites. Gabriela has great interviews with creatives, and a number of episodes focused on writing tips of her own.
  • Writers on Writing – each episode has two interviews with current published authors, focusing discussion on the craft of writing.
  • Magic Lessons – this podcast will be coming back this summer, but in the meantime, treat yourself to going back to the beginning and listening to all that Elizabeth Gilbert has to offer. Each episode Gilbert helps an author with an issue blocking them creatively. She follows up each discussion with the writer in need, with an interview from a professional who can give targeted advice to the person she’s helping. There is too much awesome in these episodes!

BOOKS

  • On Writing by Stephen King – not a how-to manual, by any means. This man is a writing monster. However, it is an inspiration to read, and has lots of great tips about how to get through big writing projects.
  • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg – a really fast read filled with gems to wake up your muse.
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – this book is the perfect follow up to On Writing, or at least it was for me. Lamott is (probably unintentionally) brilliantly forgiving when she describes the reality of “shitty first drafts.” She drives a perfect balance between the splendor and torture of the writing life.
  • Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert – well, I can’t recommend the podcast, and then not recommend the book that inspired it, can I? I listened to the audiobook version of this book – it is every kind of wonderful for all creative souls, not just writers.

MAGAZINES

  • WRITERS DIGEST – I don’t subscribe for one reason: I like to have something to grab when I sit down at the cafe in the bookstore. I grab it, sit down with it, and tell myself I will leave it there so I’ll have something to read when I come back. That never works. I buy it. Every time. The articles are that good.

WRITING COMMUNITIES

  • StoryDam – this is a great, relaxed online writing community that holds weekly Twitter chats on Thursday nights at 8PM EST. Follow along with #StoryDam to see all of us checking with each other throughout the week, but be sure to tune in Thursday night to make some fantastic connections.
  • 10MinNovelists – another great online community that also has a presence on Twitter – and a Thursday night chat (9PM EST), but I tend to connect with them more on Facebook. Either way, this is a growing group of writers at all differnt levels who are very active all week long.
  • My local writing group – nothing, and I do mean NOTHING has helped me grow more as a writer than my own group of humans that I meet face to face with on a monthly (if not more frequently) basis. I wrote a series of blog posts about putting together and maintaining a writing group, so if you don’t have one yet, you might want to check those posts out.

 

So, if you are waiting for your acceptance into the writing community, and looking for where you can learn more, join me in our endeavors to create our own, personalized education!

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2 thoughts on “Why I DIY my MFA

  1. This is a great post. I remember going to school and getting my Bachelor’s Degree in English with a Creative Writing concentration. I remember churning out stories and the thesis I wrote near the end. (I wish I kept the thesis on file.) After I graduated, I remember going through moments where I wondered what I could do with my degree besides writing. It was a frustrating time. I would write in my journals from time to time, but no stories. I had these ideas where I would write stories with Christian themes, but nothing came of it. I swore off writing for a while, off and on throughout.

    One day, I decided I would pick it up and be serious about it. I wanted to write because I loved it. I couldn’t imagine not writing, even though I had those moments. I picked it back up and worked to create a schedule that was conducive to my day job, which is very erratic.

    I still write, but I have those doubts, too, of whether or not I’m a real writer. I write. I journal. But because I don’t write every day, I feel like a fraud. Because I can’t complete a short story in a day, I feel like I can’t take myself seriously. I struggle with all these thoughts and more. Like you, though, someone told me that as long as I write, I’m a writer. I try to hold on to that affirmation. It’s not always easy, but that encourages me to write.

    Maybe we can encourage each other to keep writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are definitely a REAL writer! If you take time out of your life to sit down and write, you are a writer. As in all things there are different levels of seriousness, but it all comes down to what you wish to gain from the experience of writing. There are times, for me, when the page is nothing more than my therapist – on those days I write without care about grammar, spelling, or even readability. However, there are other times, on the other end of the spectrum, when my mind is on presenting my words to the world. That level of writing has so many more layers to it and requires an extended amount of time with each piece of writing. I think the problem is that too many of us grow up believing that only the latter type of writing makes writers, I have finally come to understand that this is not true. Last year, when I was taking three days out of every week to do the couch to 5k workout program to run my first 5k, I confidently called myself a runner. To see what my body was actually doing during these “runs” makes the statement almost laughable (running, for me, is pretty much bouncy walking). However, I stand by my claim as runner. I may not have been able to compete in races, but I was doing what runners do – week after week, month after month (and my knees still sing the sorrows), I ran. It is with that same confidence that I say to you that you and I are both writers. Will we ever “compete” with the pros? Who knows? But whether we do or not does not change who we are or what we value today.
      However, let me be clear in this: today I consider myself a former runner. The reason is simple: I do not run anymore. To be a writer, one must do only one thing: write. So keeo on writing to keep that lofty title! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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