How Does DIY MFA Simulate the MFA Experience?

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Writing

DIY MFA is all about giving writers the tools and techniques to take their writing education into their own hands.  This means each writer has the freedom to construct a learning plan that caters specifically to his or her needs and goals.  There is a method to the madness, though, even with all this freedom.

While I was researching and applying to graduate schools, I noticed a few threads common to most MFA programs.  Despite being very different schools–in different states and with different areas of focus–most MFAs emphasized four main components: reading, writing, workshop and community.  Here at DIY MFA, we focus on those very same things.

Reading

When it comes to reading, each DIY MFA writer will have a different area of focus.  For example, I write middle grade and teen fiction so the vast majority of what I read will fall in those categories.  This is not to say that I don’t also read books for adults, but they’re not my primary focus.  Another writer who wants to study literary fiction will have a completely different approach to reading than me, and that’s fantastic.  This is where DIY MFA differs from most MFA programs.  Instead of limiting what you can read only to a prescribed list of great books, the goal here is to help make your literature study serve your writing.  This means gaining a deeper understanding of the body of literature where your work fits.

Writing

The writing component of DIY MFA is divided in two parts: study of craft and making the most of creativity techniques.  In terms of craft, my area of expertise is fiction so that is what I will be concentrating on.  My goal, however, is that as DIY MFA grows I will bring in Guest Lecturers to do posts that focus on craft in other areas such as: poetry, non-fiction, playwriting, and screenwriting.  If there is enough demand for a particular genre in fiction (i.e. children’s books, teen lit, romance, thrillers, etc.) I can do posts or get Guest Lecturers for those genres as well.  My aim is that the lecturers teaching about a certain type of writing will have a lot of expertise in that area.

In terms of creativity, I have tons of creativity exercises and techniques up my sleeve.  Some of these are tricks I learned when I took a creativity seminar as a psychology grad student.  Others are exercises I’ve developed to help my students kick-start their creativity.  My goal is for everyone to build their own customized writing “toolbox” with exercises and techniques that work for them.

Workshop

When it comes to workshops, I’ve experienced just about every type you can imagine.  This means that I can give you lots of tips and ideas on where to find critique buddies and how to navigate the sometimes-intimidating world of receiving feedback on your work.  We’ll also talk about what to do with that stack of comments after you’ve gotten critiques, and how to approach the revision process.

Community

It’s important for writers to find networks of likeminded people, and that’s where this website comes in.  My goal is to give the DIY MFA community a place to meet and interact.  In the Spring, I plan to launch a DIY MFA live course where there will be even more opportunities for interaction and community.  In addition, I will be tweeting from @DIYMFA, and we can always use the hash tag #DIYMFA for tweets related to this project.  And don’t forget to visit our Facebook page (facebook.com/DIYMFA) as yet another way to interact with DIY MFA writers.

As for tips and tricks, I have lots to say on this subject as well.  We’ll cover topics ranging from writing conferences to reading in public, from where to find literary events to what to do with your rejection letters.  My hope is that as a community, we can not only serve as a support system for each other, but also help one another build personalized writing communities specific to each of our needs.

Why DIY MFA Works

The beauty of DIY MFA is that while it still covers the same four components as a traditional MFA, you decide how to structure each component in a way that fits your goals.  If you want to learn to write thrillers, you don’t have to spend hours studying eighteenth century parlor-room novels (unless you want to, of course!)  Similarly, if your goal is to engage with a community of thriller-writers, no one’s going to force you to hang out at a children’s literature reading.  Of course, branching out beyond your chosen genre can actually help you enhance your writing and can open your mind to new ideas.  But the great thing about DIY MFA is that you get to choose how you invest your time in a way that serves your goals.

This means that while DIY MFA still covers the same basics as a traditional MFA, each writer’s self-made program will be unique to that writer.  That means you get to take ownership of your writing education.  And ultimately, reclaiming ownership over our writing lives is what DIY MFA is all about.

Note: For an updated description of how DIY MFA works, go here.

  • Have you thought about using google+ too? I don’t have twitter or a facebook account, which is why I ask. (Email was hacked thanks to facebook and I just don’t have the patience for twitter. Too verbose to confine myself to micro-blogging.)

  • Gabriela

    Excellent idea! G+ is actually something I’ve got in the pipeline. Any suggestions or ideas for how we could make the most of G+ for this project? Do share because I’d love to hear about it!

    As always, I love hearing comments and suggestions so if any of you think there’s something important missing from DIY MFA, shoot me an email or leave a comment! (Psst, also just because something isn’t part of DIY MFA right now doesn’t mean it’s not already in the works… 🙂 )

    My goal is that as DIY MFA grows, we can have lots of different online (and maybe even offline) avenues for people to connect with each other and the program. That way, everyone will be able to engage with DIY MFA in a way that feels good to them.

  • Helen

    I’m very glad to hear that the program will be tailored to each individual writer’s interests.

    And the Google+ idea is a great one. I don’t like the limitations on Twitter, and I miss a lot in my stream on Twitter. Having my own DIYMFA circle on Google+ would solve a lot of problems, like missing tweets or Facebook posts.

    Thank you for this program. I’m very excited about participating.

  • Hi! Came here from Shelly Immel on G+.
    Have you thought about making a page there just for the topics & exercises? And having a hangout?
    Shelly & I used to hangout frequently, and it’s really an enhancement – I would think reading work & hearing immediate feedback would be a bonus there.

  • Keep trying to subscribe but the button doesn’t seem to want to let me. It doesn’t do anything. I’m expecting it to lead to another ‘Thanks for subscribing’ type page? Doesn’t it do that?

    • Gabriela

      Shah – It should send you a confirmation email first, where you confirm that you want to subscribe to the mailing list. Once you confirm, you should get the “thanks for subscribing” message, and a link to the free download. Email me if it gives you trouble, OK? Thanks for joining DIY MFA!

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