Beyond the Writing: How to Build a Well-Rounded Author Life

by Jeanette the Writer
published in Writing

Hey word nerd!

Jeanette the DIY MFA Curriculum Unicorn (aka Curriculum Director) here. I’ve been a fellow word nerd since early 2018 when I ran across Gabriela’s Stop Dreaming, Start Doing video series. At the end of the videos, I flipped to the next blank page in the journal where I had furiously been scribbling notes and wrote down my biggest takeaway—Be the best learner as well as the best writer.

It was this sentence that inspired my deep dive into the DIY MFA curriculum and the three pillars: write with focus, read with purpose, build your community. Consideration for each of these areas is necessary to create a well-rounded literary life. 

Part 1: The Writing

I had just quit my steady job to become a full-time writer. I knew nothing about turning myself into a business or even what a professional writer even did every day—except write. It was obvious that if I wanted to make a living from my words, I had to get them out of my brain and into some publicly consumable form. 

But my first method for full-time writing was the equivalent of throwing pasta at the wall and seeing what sticks. I wrote short stories, blogs, chapters of various novels. I branched out into unfamiliar topics and genres. And at a certain point, when I looked back at all I had accomplished, I realized I had pieces of everything that amounted to almost nothing.

Without concentrating on a single project and putting my everything into it, I was left with half-hearted attempts nowhere near ready for publication. I needed the first pillar of DIY MFA—I needed to Write with Focus. To achieve this meant committing to a project, following through to the last page, and having a plan for what would happen with the piece afterward.

Put It Into Action: It’s okay to want to vary your writing, but you have to see the larger picture and how each individual piece fills in a space in your unique literary puzzle. If you’re just starting out, imagine the body of work you want to create, then craft your writings around this central image. As you contemplate each piece of writing, hold it up to your ideal image and ask yourself: How does it fit? Where is this leading me next?

Part 2: The Reading

As a kid, I could race through a 400-page book in a single afternoon. But after college, my love of reading began to wane and it was a struggle to read even a couple of books a year. I was still writing, but that too became more and more of a battle as I lost the creative spark so often felt after reading a particularly well-crafted chapter from a favorite author.

So when I saw the second pillar of DIY MFA was Read with Purpose, I groaned outwardly. Failure. I was sure this step would mean utter failure in my attempts at following the DIY MFA plan. But in her very Gabriela way, the great word nerd-in-chief convinced me that I could at least try and so I did.

I began devouring books on crafting characters and perfecting scenes. I stockpiled resources on style, grammar, and punctuation for further reference. And I finally picked up a novel and revisited my favorite authors to bask in their genius once again. To me, the second pillar of DIY MFA made reading easy because it became necessary, yet flexible at the same time. Until then, I hadn’t realized how much my writing truly needed the reading aspect in order to advance my own creative works.

Put It Into Action: The best part of DIY-ing this curriculum is that you make your own syllabus! List 5-6 books that could help you in your current project. These could be comp (competitive) titles that are similar in topic or theme or maybe use the same narrative structure or point of view as your book. In any case, they should be books that will give you insights as you work on your writing. Now, pick one book from your list and start reading!

Part 3: The Community

Writing may be a mostly solitary act, but editing and publishing sure aren’t. I knew being a full-time writer would require immersion into the broader writing community, both locally and globally. I started attending various writing and critiquing groups around town (back when getting together was a thing). I joined Facebook groups and grew industry connections on LinkedIn. Everywhere I turned, I tried to fit into the community of writers I found.

But after a time, I realized I was unhappy in some of these communities. Whether it be the focus of the group or its personality, I found myself pulling away from places I felt I should have been diving deeper into. And I had to ask myself, “why?”

What I had missed in the third pillar—Build your Community—was the idea of building only the right community. Critique is necessary, collaboration is necessary; but if you leave every writing group feeling downtrodden rather than inspired, it can mean you aren’t getting the right feedback or haven’t found the right people who will truly support you and help you grow as a writer.

Put It Into Action: Luckily, DIY MFA makes this pillar really easy to apply. If you’re reading this newsletter, technically you’re already part of an awesome writing community. Now that you’ve found the right community, you can reach out to fellow word nerds in a way that makes you comfortable. There’s the Facebook group Word Nerds Unite, or you can connect on Twitter and Instagram via #DIYMFA. Plus, we have something awesome planned for next week that will let you connect with this community even more.

A Complete Writing Life

These days, I live and breathe the three pillars as part of my role here at DIY MFA. And I must say, it has been a distinct blessing to help shape the very content that has impacted me so much. I didn’t actually know how much I needed Gabriela and DIY MFA until I had truly experienced these three pillars for myself. Without each of them, I would not have the full writing life that I enjoy today.

To learn more, check out our FREE three video workshop series, Stop Dreaming, Start Doing.


Jeanette the Writer is an editor, coach, and freelance writer who wants to help others demolish their editing fears and finish their manuscript. As a former scuba instructor turned entrepreneur, Jeanette knows about putting in the hard work to pursue your passions. She has worked with authors, speakers, coaches, and entrepreneurs—empowering them with the right mindset, knowledge, and tools to help them tackle their editing goals. You can learn more about Jeanette by visiting JeanetteTheWriter.com

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