I love the idea of a do-it-yourself Masters in Fine Arts. I was first introduced to the DIY MFA at the very first writer’s group I attended. Thank you Helen! At the time, I didn’t realize that the founder of the concept, Gabriela Pereira, had already written a book and created an industry around the idea. In addition to the book, there’s a wealth of information for writers on her webpage, blog and podcasts. I’ll admit that I haven’t read the book but I may as I dig deeper into the concepts.
Why a DIY MFA?
My exploration of writing as the next step in my professional life meshes perfectly with the ideas around the DIY MFA. I want to rapidly deploy the skills I need to get to my goal as quickly as possible. Writing with intent, reading with an objective in mind and building community are going to get me there far faster than pounding away at the keyboard in isolation.
Why not a real MFA?
Before I dig into those concepts in a bit more detail, I need to provide the disclaimer – I don’t think the DIY MFA is a substitute for an honest-to-god real MFA. I’ve got good friends with bona-fide MFA’s in creative writing and visual arts and I don’t want to imply that I can do what they did. In depth, instructor led education will, in my opinion, always be more valuable than DIY. But …
I’m forty-huh-hun years old. I don’t want to take the time or spend the money on a genuine MFA. If I’m honest, I also don’t have the patience. There were many benefits to attending college when I was young. A big one is that I still didn’t realize that I could tell fools to take a flying leap at a rolling donut. As soon as my career taught me that lesson, I knew I could never go back to school. Getting paid to suffer fools is endurable. Paying to be instructed by one wouldn’t work for me anymore.
Writing with intent
If I could do everything with intent, I’d … I don’t know. Be happier? Sure. Be healthier? Almost certainly. Write a better story? Eventually! It’s the understanding that, right now, I’m writing a lot of stuff that sucks. Not everything, but many things. Writing with intent is recognizing that there is both good and bad in what I’m doing. I identify the bad so I can fix it. If it’s something I’m doing all the time, I study and attempt to understand the problem at a deeper level. At the same time, I’m trying to find the good. Knowing that I do have some strengths helps me push through the hard times. If you can’t find anything you’re doing well, that’s more of an issue to resolve with a therapist, not an MFA.
Reading with a goal in mind
One of the crazy things about writing is that I’m reading less published fiction than I used to. I love to read and, in the past, I would almost never reread anything. Now, I’m still reading quite a bit, but much of it is non-fiction in the form of writing guides or novel research. A substantial part of my fiction reading is taken up by critiques for the various writing groups I participate in. The little bit of fun fiction that I’ve read lately has been with specific goals in mind. I recently finished Lee Childs, Killing Floor to see how a masterful fight scene is written. I’ve also reread many of the science fiction classics that captured my imagination. This time, I’m reading them with a writer’s eyes and I can see both what the masters of craft have done right (Orson Scott Card is a master of characterization) and what they’ve flubbed (head hopping – I’m looking at you Frank Herbert).
Building a Community
This will be harder or easier depending on where you live and the type of person you are. I’m fortunate that I chose to live in a bigger city and that I’m fairly outgoing for an introvert. Finding at least one writers group is essential and, early on, I’d recommend trying several until you find one that both meets your writing goals and social goals. I fully acknowledge that this can be a challenge for many second career writers out there. You’ll think back on work dinners that were a lesson in small talk and improper use of alcohol. Once you start finding your people out there, you’ll be surprised at how your community will grow. Writers getting together is nothing like those work dinners with the exception, for some, of the improper use of alcohol. You may not be a grad student, but you still can find some kindred spirits to get out there any have fun with. Shake it like a Polaroid picture.