Epic Book Club Round-Up — Part 1

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Writing

Hey there word nerds!

If you haven’t already noticed, our Facebook community has been hopping lately and it’s all because of the DIY MFA Book Club. If you’re not already a part of it, there’s still time to join! Just go to DIYMFA.com/BookClub and sign up.

The book club was inspired by the DIY MFA Street Team experience I created back in 2016 in preparation for the DIY MFA book launch. As part of the street team, a group of around 100 word nerds were given access to the DIY MFA book (before it even hit store shelves!) and received one writing prompt inspired by the book each week.

It was a huge success! Not only did DIY MFA debut at #45 in the Writing category on Amazon, but we had a few super-motivated word nerds who blogged about the book every single week for the duration of the street team (which was 20 weeks long). Amazing! Plus the writers who participated in the street team had a lot of fun and I saw many friendships form in that group.

The street team was such a success that as soon as it was over I wanted to do it again. Still, I knew that some things would have to be different this second time. For starters, participation in the street team was exclusive. Because my publisher would be granting access to advanced reading copies, they wanted to keep the numbers small, so they limited the membership to 100 people. This time around, I wanted the experience to be more inclusive and give all word nerds the opportunity to participate.

I also learned from last time that twenty weeks is WAY too long for a writing challenge of this type, so I fine-tuned the prompts and pared it down so the whole thing would fit into four weeks. And so the DIY MFA Book Club was born! 12 prompts, 4 weeks, and a community to help you kick off the new year with writing at the core.

Note: If you join today, you’ll start at the beginning of the challenge with Prompt #1. Don’t be alarmed if you hop into the Facebook community (you’ll get an invite to the group when you join the challenge) and realize that other word nerds are answering later prompts. People are joining the challenge at different times, but everyone goes through the same series of prompts, kind of like rolling college admissions.

Book Club Round-Up, Prompts 1-5

As the book club continues, I’ll be sharing a few round-up posts talking about the materials that have been released so far. In the original DIY MFA street team, we would do round-ups of links to different street team members’ answers to the prompts. Over the course of twenty weeks, we were able to give most of the street team members their moment in the limelight by featuring their writing on our site.

This was 100% my intention when running the event again. I figured even if we doubled the numbers of that original street team, I’d still be able to read all the posts and select a few to feature every few weeks. Little did I know that this book club would draw close to 1,700 participants. After the first few days of trying to read every post in every thread of our Facebook group, I realized that I would have to “honor my reality” and just do my best.

So, instead of featuring specific word nerds’ posts, these round-ups will be more my overall impressions after looking through the various discussion threads around each prompt. Think of this as me holding up a mirror to our word nerd community and reflecting back the main themes I’m seeing with each prompt.

Prompt 1: Your Origin Story

The first prompt asks people to share the story of how they knew they wanted to be a writer. While the answers are as unique as the writers themselves, two themes came up again and again: a love of reading, and a need to “silence the voices.”

Many word nerds (myself included) came to writing because they loved to read. For some, it was a specific book that inspired them and made them want to create something similar all their own. For others, it was a desire to write what wasn’t there, to fill a niche that was underrepresented or simply to write stories they themselves yearned to read.

The “silence the voices” theme came up in different ways. For some writers, it was literally the voices of characters who would show up one day and not leave them alone until they started writing. Sometimes these weren’t voices so much as images or a slight twinge of an idea. But the same core thread runs through all the origin stories with this theme: a story grabs us by the throat and doesn’t let go until we write it.

Prompt 2: Honor Your Reality

This prompt really seemed to resonate with people, myself included. Truth be told, I didn’t expect to respond to any of the exercises, but when I went to post this prompt on Instagram, suddenly a whole long story poured out of me. I had never shared that story so specifically and publicly, but afterwards I heard from many word nerds who had similar experiences honoring reality, and man did it feel good to know that I wasn’t alone.

What I observed from the answers to the prompt is that honoring reality means different things to different people. For some it might be a life-or-death struggle between your writing life and the responsibilities of your real life. For others, honoring reality might be less extreme, like trying to squeeze writing in between other responsibilities. Yet while the narratives are as unique as each writer, there is one common thread and that is a love of writing.

Prompt 3: What’s Your Storytelling Superpower?

The Storytelling Superpower is a concept I developed in 2016 when I first launched the DIY MFA book. This is a juicy concept with a lot of layers to it, and I realized after first introducing it that I had a whole lot more to say on the subject. For this prompt, people need to take the Storytelling Superpower quiz and then reflect on the result. Does it resonate or not? And how does it play out in your writing?

What’s especially interesting with the Storytelling Superpower, is that even when people didn’t necessarily agree with the results of the quiz, it did prompt some deep thinking and reflection. At the end of the day, the quiz is just for fun and what really matters is understanding the framework behind the Storytelling Superpower and thinking about how it might apply to your writing. To find out more, take the quiz and then download the cheat sheet at the end.

Prompt 4: Fuel Your Creativity

This might have been the most fun prompt for me thus far. I have had such a blast reading people’s responses and some of my favorites included:

  • Video clips from an aquarium
  • Links to various writing communities
  • Lists of favorite writing/creativity books
  • Magnetic poetry
  • Lovely, deep reflections on the creative process
  • Even the writer igniter app got a shout-out or two!

In my Facebook Live broadcast yesterday, I unpacked my ORACLE (i.e. my creativity box of tricks) and shared all the different creative toys and games I keep at arm’s length when I write.

Prompt 5: The Truth About Best Practices

This prompt was all about debunking the myth around “best practices,” because the truth is the only best practice is what works best for you. That said, as I was looking over the responses, it was like watching one huge, collective sigh of relief. It seems like a lot of word nerds have been burdened by best practices for far too long.

But if you’re anything like me, this negating of the rules might also be a little bit scary. See, I’m one of those people who reverts to “dutiful student,” especially when I’m learning something new. Playing the dutiful student is my safe zone, my default for whenever I have to do something unexpected and uncomfortable. So being told that “the #1 rule is there are no rules” can be freaking scary!

But there’s a distinction here, because it’s not about abandoning all rules and giving in to chaos. Instead, the goal is to filter the rules and only use the ones that work for you.

Many experts make blanket statements as though it’s either their way or the highway, but I want to encourage you to find your own way. My favorite thing EVER is when someone comes to me and says: “I tried such-and-such technique from DIY MFA and it didn’t work, so I made up my own thing.” For me, that’s an even bigger win than if they had followed the DIY MFA technique to the letter. To quote Yoda in The Last Jedi:We are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.” (And yes, I totally did tear up during that scene.)

That about wraps it up for our first book club round-up. I’ll be back in two weeks with more updates and reflections about the book club prompts.

Until next time, keep writing and keep being awesome!

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