I’m not a ‘joiner’. The people who know me best would be surprised to hear I leapt at the chance to be part of the DIY MFA Street Team, a small group of folks who got to engage with Gabriela and others interested in learning more about the DIY MFA book. We were offered top secret clearance and access, just like a government agent (okay, we were part of a special social media site and participated in exclusive chats and video sessions. Close enough). The chance to be on the ground floor of a valuable, exciting, and entertaining resource was motive enough, but wait – there’s more! Now that the book is available to everyone, I wanted to take a moment to share five things I learned while participating in the Street Team.
1) Building a Community is Super Beneficial
Okay, so that might not be news, but hear me out. If you were to read about Gabriela, you’d probably say that she has all the requisite credentials to do what she does: she has taught a variety of writing-related courses and programs. She even holds an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) degree. However, instead of resting on her degree and teaching, she gathered all the tips and tricks about becoming a writer and wrote DIY (Do-It-Yourself) MFA. She then put herself to work. The last section of the book is called ‘Build Your Community’ and each chapter is devoted to joining (and creating!) your own pack (I’m a dog lover, so any group becomes a pack. If you prefer a gaggle, league, lot, or batch, feel free to substitute terms). She established a circle of trust with other writers and encouraged us to … write. Our social spaces became a home base where we shared our thoughts and were able to network. All these benefits helped me understand that being a writer is more than putting words to paper or typing.
2) Sharing Your Writing With Random Strangers Is Not As Scary As It Seems
The idea of sharing what I wrote with others was initially very frightening to me. I had sweated each word onto those pages, revised them, and typed them. The first time I posted something online, I think my heartrate was double what it should have been. But then I thought about it: if we want to be writers, do we want people to purchase our books? What do we expect those persons to do with our material? I would hope they would read it. Oh, wait … sharing with strangers. Right.
There are there step-by-step pointers in DIY MFA about working with writing groups and how to handle (and give) critiques. As part of the Street Team, we had weekly prompts to write and share. The experience is very much like being part of a writer’s group, as we popped in to one another’s blogs or writing spaces, read one another’s work, and offered suggestions and support. As the weeks went by, we got to know each other. It was rather easy to become a member of a new pack.
3) Don’t Let Fear Stop You!
When I walked into my first writer’s group, I was intimidated by the fact that our facilitator had her MFA and was developing a manuscript as her thesis, which would be revised and ultimately submitted to an agent or publisher. I mean, who was I? Just some woman, who tried her hand at some short stories and longer pieces – how could I contribute to a class of experts? But I realized that most people in the group were very much like me. The Street Team includes people with different levels of experience and we were able to come together and learn.
4) Supporting Other Writers Makes Your Own Writing Stronger
One perk of being a member of Gabriela’s Street Team is that we were able to brag about her book for a while before it was available. We were able to read it from cover to cover and discuss what we found valuable with the other members of the team. It offered insight into something each of us could do when we have a new release. There is something empowering about being able to have something that not everyone else can have. But such power should always be used for good and not evil: we were encouraged to offer our feedback on the text to Gabriela and to give an honest review as well.
Imagine if you provided an advance copy of your next book to a select group, got their feedback in the process, and also had them review the book when it became public? New readers tend to check reviews, which are difficult to get if no one has your book. Now, think of this: what if there are glaring errors in your book? Would you want to find out after it was on the market?
I have had the pleasure of serving as a review reader for a few new writers and notice that as I offer feedback, I take note of the critiques I give. I then do my best not to have those issues in my own work. The idea of reading and interacting with the works of others is something Gabriela discusses in the DIY MFA book.
5) Active Participation Is Important
One thing that stands out about DIY MFA is that Gabriela gives her readers plenty to do. She includes exercises for practice and steps to follow in every section. For members of the Street Team, she and the great people in her inner circle made sure we had resources, food-for-thought tidbits in between her regular posts, and videos. The variety of ways to engage ensured there was something for everyone.
I am grateful for the opportunity to be involved with the DIY MFA Street Team. It has been a continuous learning and growing experience that I would love to incorporate into a future book launch plan of my own.
Andreé Robinson-Neal got bit by the writing bug in the 1970s and despite a career in education has never been cured of her penchant for speculative fiction. Find her at starvingactivist.com. She writes under the name AR Neal, who will hopefully one day be identified as a famous NaNoWriMo participant.