Writers Need a Team: Meet the Team at DIY MFA

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Community

Writers are solitary creatures. We choose to isolate ourselves in imaginary worlds of our own creation for hours, months, years at a time. We often feel protective or possessive of our projects, hoarding our words away like Gollum with his “precioussss.” These are survival skills we learn as writers. We have to seclude ourselves and protect our words from the world–at least in the beginning–otherwise we’d never get past page one. Sooner or later, though, all writers need a team.

Isolation can wear us down as writers. After all, it’s hard pushing forward when it’s just you against the world. Sooner or later, writers have to learn to share and collaborate. At some point we have to admit that we’re better off in a team than going it alone.

Believe me, I’m the first to admit that “playing well with others” is not one of my finer qualities. Sharing is a perpetual challenge for me, especially when it comes to projects I’m really passionate about, like DIY MFA. This past year, though, it became clear to me that I needed to stop being stubborn and selfish, and I had to let other people help me with this project. It hasn’t been easy, because for a while I was afraid that sharing DIY MFA would mean giving up part of it. What happened was the opposite.

Sharing Ideas Is Not a Zero-Sum Game

Earlier this year I attended 99u, a creativity conference for designers, tech people and entrepreneurs. One of the presenters talked about what it means to share ideas, and this concept really stuck with me. Here’s the essence of what this speaker said:

Suppose I have an apple and you have an apple. If we exchange apples, then we each still have only one apple. Now suppose I have an idea and you have an idea. If we exchange ideas then we each have not one, but two ideas.

Such is the nature of ideas: sharing is not a zero-sum game. Not so with concrete objects. If I give you an apple then I no longer have that apple. Your gain is my loss. But if I share an idea with you, then we both can build on it and come up with new concepts. Ideas are not finite, they expand and multiply. By understanding the multiplicative nature of sharing ideas, I realized that forming a team wouldn’t mean less of DIY MFA for me, but more of DIY MFA for everybody.

Introducing the DIY MFA Team

DIY MFA has come a long way in the past few years, but what I see as my biggest accomplishment has been building a phenomenal team. These five talented, brilliant women have added so much to DIY MFA, above and beyond anything I could have done by myself. The best word I can think of to describe it is “gestalt,” or the idea that whole is greater and more complete than sum of the individual parts. As individuals we each have our strengths, but put us together and we are a force to be reckoned with.

Today, it is my honor and privilege to introduce the DIY MFA Team. For more details about what each of us does at DIY MFA, check out the contact page or read our individual bios.

Meghan Drummond

Meghan joined DIY MFA this past fall and already she’s an indispensable part of the team. Originally signing on as the TA (teaching assistant) for our fall speaker series, she’s now stepped into a larger role as Curriculum Coordinator, helping me develop all the teaching materials for DIY MFA. She was instrumental in helping me run the DIY MFA Writing Sprint in November and these past few weeks she and I have been working tirelessly to create the new flagship course: DIY MFA 101. Having taught high school English, Meghan is truly a teacher at heart and has already made a huge impact on DIY MFA behind the scenes. She’s also currently enrolled in the same MFA program where I studied, and we’ve bonded over our love of teen literature and children’s books.

Bess Cozby

Bess has been following DIY MFA ever since it was a small post-series on my personal blog. We became blog-friends right away. At one point, we realized that we were both in NYC so we met for coffee, hit it off, and the rest is history. In fall of 2012, Bess joined DIY MFA as an intern and she proved so invaluable that I quickly started giving her more responsibilities. Today, she’s the Web Editor and oversees the entire website, Facebook page and the @TeamDIYMFA Twitter feed. Everything you see on this site has passed Bess’s meticulous scrutiny. She coordinates the regular columns, handles all guest articles and is master of the editorial calendar. Sharing control of the website was a big step for me, but knowing Bess as I do, I knew the site would be in good hands. More importantly, having Bess coordinating the site has freed me up to focus my attention on developing DIY MFA workshops and products, speaking at conferences and growing our community.

Melinda VanLone

Melinda is our official photographer and her work makes the website look fantastic. The vast majority of those beautiful photos you see attached to the articles are from Melinda’s extensive archive, but her talents don’t stop there. Melinda is a published author and a brilliant book cover designer. She’s writing several guest articles for us, sharing her expertise about book cover design to inform writers and help them make smart decisions on this topic. She also has several books in the pipeline to be released in 2014. Stay tuned!

Wendy Lu

Wendy, a senior at UNC Chapel Hill, was the DIY MFA intern this past summer and she reminds me a lot of what I was like in college: driven, motivated and passionate about her work. Since Wendy is studying journalism, I decided to put her skills to the test by having her do an author interview toward the end of her internship. She did such a great job that I created a special column just for her. Wendy now interviews published authors and shares insights about their writing process and books at DIY MFA. In particular, Wendy’s column focuses on authors and books that use storytelling in unique and fun new ways, hence the column’s name: New Spin.

Becca Jordan

The very first thing that struck me about Becca was the personality and voice that came across in her writing. As an intern she wrote a couple of guest articles for the site and right away her voice came through loud and clear. When the time came for DIY MFA to launch an advice column, I knew that Becca would be the perfect person to bring both depth and humor to the topic. Becca now writes bi-weekly articles for her “Ask Becca” column, where she gives honest (and often also hilarious) advice about writing.  As a writer, she focuses on science fiction and fantasy, and one of her stories has recently been featured at Fiction Vortex.

What I’ve Learned from Building a Team

Building a team and sharing DIY MFA didn’t mean there was less of it left for me. In fact, the opposite was true. By delegating things to people whose talents exceeded mine in those areas, I’ve been able to focus my skills on the aspects of DIY MFA that I’m good at and love doing. My passion has always been teaching, and by sharing website responsibilities and bringing in more writers to create articles, I’ve been able to focus on what I really love: creating and teaching courses. This allowed me to launch a speaker series this past fall with twelve guest experts, and to create a new flagship course called DIY MFA 101 (coming later this month).

On a more personal note, Lawyer Hubby, Little Man and I will be welcoming a new addition to our family in late June: a new baby girl!  This new development has made me all the more motivated to build a strong team at DIY MFA so that when summer comes I’ll be able to step back and focus on being a mommy for a few weeks. I am confident that with these five talented women on the team, DIY MFA will be in good hands and I’ll be able to take my “mommy-time” and DIY MFA won’t miss a beat. Don’t worry, I won’t be gone completely, but I definitely feel better knowing that these brilliant ladies have my back.

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