18 May

DIY MFA: Working the Workshop

Posted in Community, Critique, DIY MFA

When it comes to finding a workshop for your work, you have many options available.  You can try to find critique partners (CPs) and beta readers (betas), form a critique group or even take a writing workshop.  In fact, it can be overwhelming to make sense of it all so here’s a handy dandy cheat-sheet to help you figure it out.

Critique Partners:  Critique partners (CPs) are individuals who critique your work and you critique theirs.  These are your partners in crime, writers who will accompany you on your journey.  These are the people who will be willing to read and re-read, and re-read yet again that one scene you just can’t get right.  In terms of numbers, you can have just one or two CPs, or a whole group.

Critique Group:  This is like having a whole bunch of critique partners.  Most of these groups meet in person and can stay together for years.  My own critique group meets every week, when we critique one writer’s work, rotating through the members so everyone gets a turn every few weeks.  We’re basically like a workshop, only without the teacher.

Beta Readers:  Beta readers (betas) are writers to whom you send a full version of your book.  They’re called beta readers because they essentially “beta-test” your book, the way beta-users will test out new software.  Usually betas are different people from your CPs so you can get fresh feedback on your work, though sometimes these individuals can overlap.  Betas differ from CPs in that the latter usually read your work as it’s in progress and look at more specific problems.  Betas, because they see the whole book, can give you more global comments on the book overall.

Writing Workshop:  This is a great way to meet new writer-friends and maybe even form a critique group after class is over.  My current critique group grew out of a writing class where a handful of us started the group.  The group has changed and grown over the years, but it all started with that first class.  The advantage of a writing workshop is that you have the teacher there to keep discussion moving and to answer questions on craft.

Stay tuned for more workshop and critique tips!

Now you tell me: Do you workshop your writing? What kind of workshop scenarios have worked best for you?

This post is part of DIY MFA.  For more information, check out the DIY MFA Facebook page or join the DIY MFA list to get a FREE workbook.  You can also find links to previous DIY MFA posts by going to the menu tab.


15 May

Why Writers Need Writer Friends

Posted in Community, DIY MFA

Writing is a solitary sport, one that often leaves us beating our heads against the wall in frustration.  This is why having a network of writer comrades can be so important.  This idea of an artistic community is not new.  Think back to the Abbey Theater in Dublin, the salons of Paris and the Algonquin Round Table in New York.  For as long as there have been artists and writers, they have found ways to come together and connect with each other.

Some of you may wonder why writers should waste precious writing time just chatting with other writers.  I say, it’s because writing is so isolating that it’s especially important for writers to connect with one another.  No, another writer can’t write your book for you, but you can gain valuable advice and much-needed support on your writing journey if you take the time to connect with writer friends.

Why Writers Need Writer Friends 

1)  They will give you perspective.  When you write alone all day, it”s easy to lose perspective about the writing and publishing process.  Suddenly it can feel like everyone in the world has finished their novel or has gotten published except you.  Talking to other writers who are in the same boat as you can give you much-needed perspective. 

2)  They will give you encouragement.  By that same token, connecting with writers who have found success can also be very encouraging.  It can show you that good things can and do happen.  Seeing writer friends get agents and book deals can reaffirm that when it’s your turn good things can happen for you too. 

3)  They will give you motivation.  Good writer friends will motivate you by encouraging you to send out work or finish your novel.  But motivation doesn’t always have to come in the form of encouragement.  Even if all you do is sit together in a coffee shop and write side-by-side, having company can push you to be more efficient and more focused. 

4)  They will give you a shoulder to cry on.  When rejection rears it’s ugly head, you’ll be happy to have writer friends nearby to lend you support.  Rejection always stings–even if just a little–and it’s nice to have writer friends to help you bounce back and carry on.

5)  They will be there to party with you when things go well.  True creative friends aren’t just there to prop you up when you’re down.  They’re there for you when you succeed as well.  Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way calls these “before, during and after friends” because they’re on your side before, during and after you find success.

What do you think?  Why are writer friends important?


05 May

4 Core Elements of the Writing MFA

Posted in Community, Critique, DIY MFA, Reading, Writing

Even though April is over, DIY MFA continues, though in a more relaxed fashion.  Since many participants from April are new to DIY MFA, I thought I’d do some review posts every week to go over some of the DIY MFA concepts we discussed back in September.  Today we’ll go over the four core elements of a Writing MFA (Master of Fine Arts) and how you can do-it-yourself to create your own DIY MFA. 

In a Writing MFA, writers must…

Read.  Most MFA programs have a literature component, where students must take a series of literature classes along with their writing coursework.  At The New School, not only do you have to take literature classes, you actually have to write a literature thesis as part of your graduation requirement.  In that sense, reading is a huge component of the MFA process.  Similarly, DIY MFA puts an emphasis on reading the literature.  By creating a reading list, reading the books and writing responses to what you read, you can simulate the literature study you would do in an MFA program.

Write.  Of course a writing program must include a lot of writing, and so must DIY MFA.  In a writing program you’ll receive instruction on the craft of writing and be pushed to produce a substantial number of pages each semester for your workshop.  This process of writing and rewriting helps you hone your craft and strengthen your own abilities.  Without a writing component, the MFA (including the DIY MFA) would miss the point.  To be a writer, you have to write.  It’s that simple.

Workshop.  The workshop is a central component of any MFA in writing.  By giving critique to other writers, you sharpen your reading skills.  In receiving critique on your own work will learn to make your writing stronger, as well as develop skills to handle rejection and criticism on your work.

Connect.  One component that many writers forget is connecting to the writing community.  Connecting can happen in many different ways.  Attending readings, going to conferences, connecting with other writers via the internet… these are all great ways to engage with the writing community.  The reason community is so important for writers is that otherwise writing can be a very lonely enterprise.  Community gives us a reality check and helps us stay motivated.

Which of these elements is easiest for you?  Which is the biggest challenge?


18 Apr

A little R&R

Posted in Community, DIY MFA, Literature, Reading, Writing

Sometimes we need a little R&R, and I don’t mean “rest and relaxation,” I mean “reading and recharging.” Of course, writing is important because if we’re writers and we’re not actually doing any writing, then there’s something seriously wrong with the equation.  At the same time, if all we do is write and we don’t stop to read what else is out there in the world, then we’re living in a vacuum and that can be very lonely.

Yesterday in #DIYMFA chat, the subject came up of reading as a warm-up to writing and the idea really seemed to resonate with a lot of people in the chat.  With that in mind, I thought today we could talk about literature that inspires us and puts us in that writing mood.

But first, I wanted to tell you all of a great tool I’ve been learning about.  It’s called Goodreads.  Sort of like Facebook–but a lot cooler–Goodreads allows you to follow friends and get updates on what they’re reading, what they thought about it and what books they recommend.

Personally, I haven’t really started to scratch the surface of what Goodreads offers, but I Love reading list function.  You can put books on your to-be-read list and mark them off as you read them.  There’s even a 2011 reading challenge (for which I’m totally behind schedule!) that tracks how many books you read this year.  If anyone happens to be a Goodreads expert, please feel free to add more tips in the comments because I feel like this is such a great online community but I’ve only begun to explore its many benefits.

If you are on Goodreads (or you happen to join), please feel free to friend me (Gabriela Pereira–you’ll recognize me because I’m the only person on Goodreads with an iggi as a profile pic).

As for today, I’d like to hear about what you read.  What snippet of literature puts you in the mood to write?  For me, it’s a poem.  In fact, this poem always helps me see the lighter side of writing (and receiving criticism) so I like to read it as a warm-up when I’m feeling stressed-out by a writing project.  This poem makes me giggle and helps me not take myself too seriously.  After all, writing should be fun or else why do it, right?

Here’s the poem that inspires me: Workshop by Billy Collins

Homework: Please share in the comments a snippet of something you’ve read that has inspired you or helped put you in the writing mood.  Let’s inspire one another to write by sharing the literature that we love.  If it’s a short quote, you can tweet it too. Because literature that awesome can’t be kept to oneself; you have to share it with the world.  Write on!


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