Helping Writers Write, DIY MFA Style

by Angela Yeh
published in Writing

Here at DIY MFA, we are passionate about literacy, learning, and helping writers hone their skills. It’s our jam, our laser-focus; it is the air we breathe. 

As many of you know, I am not only a columnist, but I also work for DIY MFA as the Community Welcome Dragon. I handle many of the emails to free Gabriela and the crew to focus on creating new courses and content for us (ScribLandia, FLOW, and all the awesomesauce new stuff headed our way.)

So hear me when I say we have seen every question about writing known to humankind and probably more. I thought today I would gather the most common questions people ask about starting writing (or starting writing again) here in one place. Voila! I know. I ate my Wheaties this morning.

First, let me put your mind at ease about something we hear a lot, something no one tells you at first:

You can have a day job and be a writer. 

Did you know that sixty-six percent of emerging writers have day jobs? I would hazard a guess that at least half of the rest have someone in their household who is paying the bills for them, allowing them to write. My number one tip for beginner writers is to remember it’s okay to not demand your creativity pay the bills. Flip those pancakes, fix those computers, litigate that jaywalker, and hold your artist head high. YOU are a writer. You contain multitudes. You are a conjurer of beauty and truth. 

Boom! Let’s do this.

Write with Focus

Creating a writing practice we can stick to (or be flexible yet consistent with) is the key to everything else. And yet, staying consistent in our writing and getting our story to the end is the number one problem people ask about. There are loads of techniques like Pomodoro (a time management method based on 25-minute stretches of focused work broken by five-minute breaks), rewarding yourself each time you write, finding a partner to keep you accountable, and so many more. I have used different strategies, often in the same week. Because I am a people pleaser (I know, I’m working on it), what keeps me consistent is having a scheduled time to write with a group of people each day or week. Because it’s scheduled, and other people will miss me if I’m not there, it works! We do this weekly at the HUB! 

But you don’t have to listen to me; listen to Gabriela! Here is a wonderful podcast episode Gabriela did about keeping your creative consistency with Lisa Gardner.

In the end, you are in charge of how much you write and when. As a mom (with the best day job ever), I get the Cirque-Du-Soliel-like acrobatics involved in staying consistent. Let the magic of creating call to you. Don’t give up, and you will find a way.

Read with Purpose

Teaching yourself the craft of writing requires grit and passion—two things you’ll need to keep those 3 am dreams alive. Here are seven essential writing books to get you back on track. Any of these will make a huge difference. If you’re a slow reader, try Audible versions, or find an online book club so you can also jump in and benefit from group discussions and analysis. Most of these books are also at your local library and did you know that you can request a book be available at your library if it isn’t already? 

Yes, you can!

Here is a list of seven of the powerhouse essential reading lists for beginner writers:

  1. Save the Cat! Blake Snyder
  2. On Writing Stephen King
  3. Bird by Bird, Anne Lamont
  4. Writing down the Bones Natalie Goldberg
  5. Now Write! (Fiction Writing Exercises from Today’s Best Writers and Teachers)
  6. The 3 A.M Ephiphany Brian Kiteley
  7. DIY MFA Gabriela Pereira

Don’t forget the most fun part of beginning your writer’s education: finding books in the genre or category you want to write. How fun is that? Books about magical women and terrifying dragons? Yes, please!

Build Your Community

Lastly, building a writing community can be a struggle. After all, to do our job, we writers must be perfectly fine alone for hours on end! But building that network is so important to a writing career, and it is also a lot of fun when you find your tribe. Or tribes. 

Gabriela interviewed author and blogger Jeff Goins, all about how to find and grow your writing community no matter where in the world you are. 

Also, I highly recommend joining our Facebook group Word Nerds Unite as a place to start finding like-minded fellow writers. Our community is supportive and encouraging, plus we have a lot of fun!

But what if Facebook, and social media in general isn’t your jam? You are (absolutely) not alone in feeling this way and you can still build your community. There are so many great pop-up writing groups out there who meet daily, weekly, or monthly over ZOOM to just connect and write at a regular time. Finding one that fits you is a matter of using those fingers to google writers groups! 

Prefer building community in real life? Why not do both with a check at your local library. In-person groups that had fallen off during COVID are now getting back together again. If you don’t see one you can always start your own.

Conferences, writing groups, and courses are everywhere these days and it feels like I can’t google ‘how would dragons breathe fire in real life’ without seeing an advertisement for a new writing conference. 

I will leave you with a stanza from poet Jalynn Harris, from the poem The Life of a Writer: 

the life of a writer is desire 

            i hammer into the page 

                        i make up my mind: the streetlight 

As always, we hope this helps in some small way. Thank you for listening to the siren call of creativity. When we are brave enough to chase that dream, we make space for others to do the same. Not a bad place to start.

Did I miss an essential book in your writing repertoire? I’d love to hear what resources have helped you along the way.

Angela Yeh is an East Coast Canadian native who grew up a stone’s throw from Stephen King’s Maine. She now lives in Texas and sees Chuck Norris on the always. Angela is a short tall-story-teller who loves to garden, write about magic, and eat cake. If you’d like to check out her first published novel, A Phoenix Rises, she will send you cookies. She lives with her husband, two human children, and three fur babies. You can follow her antics on Twitter and Instagram or on her website.

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