Hello and thank you for joining me today! Today’s episode is all about the seven essentials for a writer’s education.
I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while, and after I wrote this article a few weeks ago about my philosophy of teaching writing, I thought it was time to share these seven essentials with you.
Whenever I go somewhere to write, I carry a “brain book” with me. It’s filled with tools and inspirational totems that help me find my focus. Honestly, I could do a whole episode on the “brain book” alone and the significance of each of the items I keep in it. But there’s one item in particular–an unsharpened pencil–that has special significance. It was given to me by a teacher who told me to carry it as a symbol of all my untapped creative potential.
I still have that pencil almost 15 years later, and it’s a reminder of how important my education is to my writing. It also makes me remember that I should always be open to new ideas.
Each time I launch a new class or program at DIY MFA, I get that same giddy feeling of untapped potential as when I look at that unsharpened pencil. Every new group of DIY MFA students gets me excited and motivated to see what the next semester will bring. With DIY MFA 101 starting up again next week, it got me thinking about all the pieces that go into a writing life and how important each one is to your writing career. In this episode, I break down the nuts and bolts of the seven fundamental elements you need.
Seven Essentials of a Writer’s Education
These essentials are built out of the three pillars of DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, and Build Your Community.
Write with Focus
1. Motivation – You need to learn how to motivate yourself, to flip the switch on your creativity, without using any special props or atmosphere. Train yourself to sit down and write when you want to, when you need to. You have 24 hours in a day, just like anyone else. How will you use it?
2. Creativity – This is a teachable skill! You can exercise the creativity muscle and it will get stronger. The more creativity you have, the less precious your ideas become, and the easier it is to let those ideas out into the world.
3. Mastering the craft – It’s important that you understand the fundamentals of character development, plot structure, story arc, and how to tell your story via voice and point of view.
4. Writing an engaging story – You need to understand the scene-by-scene elements of a story, as well (dialogue, description, world-building), and how these elements work together to build your story and give your characters a rich space in which to experience that story.
Read with Purpose
5. Read like a writer – Build your reading list with focus, including books on craft and books that are in your genre. Don’t waste time with books that aren’t resonating with you. Look at the elements of craft that each author uses in their work and analyze their choices and the impact those choices have on their writing as a whole.
Build Your Community
6. Find your ideal readers – Connect with the people who will eventually be reading your work. Readers buy your book. Learn what tools you can use to connect with your potential readers and then get out there and get connecting.
7. Understanding and navigating the publishing industry – The world of publishing is changing so quickly! It’s hard to keep up, so you have to be aware of what is going on around you.
How do you incorporate all these elements? Well, the easiest and fastest way is to sign up for DIY MFA 101. But 101 is not for everyone and if you really want to DIY your MFA all on your own, there are lots of good resources that I’ll list for you below. You can also go to any of the great writing conferences that go on each year, and hear firsthand from experts in the field both about the craft of writing and how to build your career.
In the end it’s not about what you’re learning, it’s about how you learn. Keep honing that skill, learn what works and what doesn’t, and be open to new ideas, and you’ll be miles ahead of the rest of the pack.
“In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future.”
I covered a lot of points in today’s episode, but if you want to dig in to some of the topics a bit more, here are a few podcast episodes to help you do that.
- Episode 3 shows how to use prompts to boost your creativity, your motivation, and your skill as a writer.
- Episode 6 is all about the five essential promises you make to your reader in the first five pages of your book.
- Episode 11 will teach you the nuts and bolts of reading like a writer.
- Episode 19 shows how to rock your revisions.
- Episode 21 is all about outlines and how to use them.
- Episode 23 is all about setting goals and making resolutions that stick. Even though we’re already in April, these techniques apply year-round.
- Episode 25 will help you get motivated and get writing.
- Episode 32 is our comprehensive writing conference survival guide.
- Plus, don’t miss our two-part series (episodes 35 & 37)where my agent Jeff Kleinman deconstructs and critiques queries submitted by fellow DIY MFA writers.
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Until next week, keep writing and keep being awesome.