Welcome to our first official installment of #5onFri or “Five on Friday.” This is a weekly column by members of the DIY MFA community, showcasing books (and other writerly things) that we love. Got an idea for a #5onFri? Email Bess Cozby with your concept.
To kick off our #5onFri series, first I thought I’d share the five books that most influenced me as I developed the idea for DIY MFA. It was near impossible to list just five, so I’ve narrowed the topic and selected five not-so-obvious books that inspired me and pushed me toward curriculum design and creative entrepreneurship.
As a preface to my list and to give my choices more context, I wanted to share a little bit about me. As a kid and teen, I was always a misfit and instigator of trouble, albeit one with a docile demeanor. I loved to defy authority and when someone said I couldn’t do something, my response would be: “Oh yeah? Watch me.”
I’ve always craved being challenged, so much so that my first semester in college, I became furious when I saw near-perfect GPA. I immediately marched into the dean’s office and demanded they either let me take more difficult classes, or give me my money back. I love it when teachers, students, friends and colleagues push me to look at things in new ways or from a different point of view.
In my brain, everything is interconnected and part of one big symphony of ideas. Art, literature, poetry, and writing, are just a breath away from logic, math and design. The books that have made the most impact on me over the years are not fast or easy reads. Instead, they are books that have forced me to think in new ways and I revisit them again and again. Without further ado, here’s my list.
5 Books That Challenged Me To Start DIY MFA
This was the first book that challenged me to question my preconceived notions about storytelling and literature. Since graduating college, I’ve been on a quest to understand why humans read, how they interact with books, and what the implications are for writers. This was one of the books that set me on this journey.
James L. Adams
When I was in my first graduate program (doing a Masters in child development) I took a course on creativity. One of the assignments in this course was to re-conceive the notion of a book, or as our professor called it: the “un-book.”. We worked in teams and had to develop prototypes of our un-book concepts. This was back in 2001, long before the Kindle and eBooks, so the mock-ups were more hands-on and not as high-tech as they might be if the professor gave that assignment now. Even so, this assignment pushed me to consider what a book is, and what it really means for something to be multi-media. Conceptual Blockbusting was the textbook for that game-changing class.
The title might sound cheesy or sales-y, but this book is actually quite profound in its simplicity. There are essentially two concepts that drive the book: brainstorming and barn-raising. Brainstorming is what helps you generate ideas and pinpoint the ones worth pursuing. Barn-raising is how you put these ideas into action, and how you get other people to help. I read this book before I even knew I would be a writer or an entrepreneur and to this day I still find myself using techniques from it.
Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird
Ed Burger was a math professor at my alma mater and while I never took a class with him, the campus was small enough that despite his status as a legendary teacher, he actually knew me by name and would always greet me when I bumped into him in the math/psychology library. This book merits a spot on this list because it fully embodies the fundamentals of DIY MFA. The five elements discussed are at the core of how DIY MFA works. Want to become a better learner? Read this book. (Full disclosure: I’m still partway through this book but already I know it makes the cut.)
Less widely known than Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way or her book on writing, The Right to Write, this is perhaps her most challenging book (and therefore most worthy in my eyes). Unlike some of her other work, this book hits very different notes and doesn’t let the reader to get away with skimming the surface of hard concepts. Vein of Gold is actually painful to complete, but in a good way like an intense workout that is both tough and exhilarating. I’ve read nearly all of Julia Cameron’s books and this is by far my favorite because it is the most challenging.
All of these books challenged me to go beyond obvious answers and pushed me to consider literature, learning and even life in new, deeper ways. I love books that push me out of my comfort zone. I don’t like being coddled and love books that make me think. These five books fit the bill.