09 Oct

ROW80 Check-In (1)

Posted in DIY MFA, ROW80, Writing Challenge

Hi all!

Been a super-productive week here at iggi&gabi.  For starters, I wrote about 7200 words of DIY MFA content (which is 2200 words more than my weekly goal.  Woot!)  I’ve also written a grand total of 7 blog posts (three here and four for DIY MFA) which is in keeping with my weekly goal.  The only thing I didn’t get a chance to do was revise my one chapter of the WIP.  I planned to work on it this weekend, but unexpected developments in DIY MFA forced me to put that chapter on hold for another week.

On Friday I decided that a new feature in DIY MFA–Writer Fuel–was ready to launch this week (instead of at the end of October).  Writer Fuel is a weekly boost of inspiration delivered via email to help people jump-start their writing.  This new part of DIY MFA launches on Friday and will continue every Friday, just in time to help inspire some weekend writing.  To receive Writer Fuel, just sign up for the DIY MFA mailing list on the DIY MFA site.

Overall, it’s been a good week and today I was super-tired and in need of some serious relaxation.  Luckily, I had planned a spa day for today (my mommy-to-be present to myself) and this couldn’t come at a better time.  After a few hours of major relaxation, I came home ready to dive back into work again.  If you’re ever feeling burnt out in your writing, I highly recommend this.  Even if you don’t want to go to an actual spa, a bubble bath, some scented lotion and a self-manicure can work wonders!

Write on and keep rocking the ROW80!


08 Sep

The new face of DIY MFA!

Posted in DIY MFA

Some of you have already learned about the new DIY MFA site from Twitter or Facebook, but I wanted to make an official announcement on the blog today.  DIY MFA has a new home, a new look and will be featuring lots of new goodies over the next few months!

I will still be keeping all the DIY MFA posts here on iggi&gabi as reference, but will no longer be blogging about DIY MFA on this site.  Instead, the DIY MFA site, will feature a blog with regular posts as well as other fun things that will launch later this fall (newsletter and webinar to name a few).  The DIY MFA blog launches officially on Monday Sept. 12 but I’ve been announcing the new site to my writer friends (that’s you!) as a sneak preview.

If you’re interested in learning more about DIY MFA, hop on over to the site and check it out.  As always, I love hearing from you, so if you have thoughts or ideas to share, don’t hesitate to email me: contact.DIYMFA [at] gmail [dot] com

Keep writing, and keep being awesome!

One comment »

21 Jul

Why Many MFA Programs are Imperfect

Posted in DIY MFA, MFA and Beyond

I recently wrote a post about the MFA dilemma: should writers go back to graduate school or not?  One of the reasons I gave for not recommending an MFA program to most writers is that most MFA programs have serious flaws.  Today we address those flaws.

1) They’re expensive.  Many MFA programs offer little-to-no funding.  A recent ranking of MFA programs done by Poets & Writers magazine takes funding into account, giving it more weight.  For details on the methodology of that ranking, see this article.  Even so, funding does not solve all problems.  Rarely do institutions give graduate students money for free, and often this funding comes with added responsibilities like teaching or research.  Money’s great, but many times it comes with strings and lots of politics attached.  Even if the MFA program you’re considering offers a full-ride plus stipend, find out exactly what responsibilities you’re signing on to before you snap up the funds.

2)  The MFA concept is not based on reality.  In his book, The Creative Writing MFA Handbook, Tom Kealey talks about how going to an MFA program is like “drawing a line in the sand… you are staking a claim to being a writer, and you’re letting everyone around you know it.”  This idea that we as writers owe it to ourselves to invest in our writing is lovely.  In theory.  The problem is many writers dedicate themselves to their writing for two years and then what?  Where do they go next?  While I believe that we do want to stake our claim as writers, I don’t believe putting life on hold for two years is the way to do it.  Instead, I think we owe it to ourselves to create a life where writing, literature and craft, are an integral part of our day-to-day.  There is a time and place or putting life on hold to study and it’s called undergrad.  Graduate school is about making your study an integral part of your life.

3)  Many MFA programs can have a competitive streak.  Part of what adds to the allure of the higher degree is that not everyone can have one.  Some writers just don’t make the cut.  Sure, the application process is a necessary evil because given how many writers want to attend and how relatively few open spots exist, there has to be a way of selecting who gets in and who doesn’t.  The problem is that to get in to an MFA program, being a serious writer is often not enough.  Most of the writers who end up getting the “We are pleased to inform you…” letter are already strong writers to begin with.  The way the system is set up, the strong get stronger and the writers who are not as far along but have lots of potential end up falling through the cracks.

The competition doesn’t end when you get into the program.  I saw some writers who were less developed in their writing receive harsh backlash from others.  Some academic programs use competition to push the students toward success, but in writing success is not a zero-sum game.  One writer’s triumph doesn’t automatically imply another’s failure.  Sometimes when the competition bug sneaks up it’s hard to remember that.

4)  Non-literary fiction is often discriminated against.  I went to an MFA program where I was able to study Writing for Children.  Despite graduates from this concentration having a strong publication record, Writing for Children students were often treated like the bastard stepchildren of the program.  Most other students didn’t know our concentration even existed and those who did often were surprised that we “could actually write well.”  These days, there are maybe a half-dozen or so programs that grant MFA’s in Writing for Children, and even fewer ones that consider commercial fiction (such as romance, thrillers, scifi or fantasy).  Sure, literary fiction is wonderful–I’m a huge fan–but it’s only one slice of the literature pie.  Considering how the publishing world is evolving, literary fiction isn’t exactly the fastest-growing slice either.  So why aren’t other genres proportionately represented in the realm of MFA?  That’s a subject of a whole other post.  Suffice it to say that there are many fabulous writers exploring genres that are not strictly “literary” and that many of those writers would love a chance to deepen their study.

Take-Home Message:  In the end, the loss isn’t that of the writers.  There are plenty of ways that writers can gain the benefits of the MFA without actually doing an MFA.  (We’ll get to that tomorrow.)  The truth is, I feel bad for the programs themselves.  By making MFA degrees available only to an elite few, these programs miss out on the benefit of interacting with many talented writers who are excited about their craft.  While I certainly still stay in touch with many of my fellow MFA-folk, I have found several talented writers outside this community whom I am proud to call my friends, colleagues and mentors.  People who do the MFA but don’t isolate themselves to it are the ones who benefit the most.  The students who miss out are those who try to hold on to that MFA world forever.

OK, so I’ve expressed the flaws of MFA programs, and I’ve talked about the great things you can get out of an MFA.  Next I’ll be sharing with a little more about DIY MFA and how you can fit some of those benefits into your life without actually doing an MFA.  After all, DIY MFA is about creating an empowered and sustainable writing life and to do that we have to start by actually living.

One comment »

20 Jul

4 Great Things I Learned from the MFA

Posted in DIY MFA, MFA and Beyond

On Monday I talked about why I wouldn’t recommend an MFA to an aspiring writer, and I must admit that I feel a little like the black sheep of the MFA community.  Lest you all start to think that I’m just hating on grad school just to be contrary, I thought I’d do a post about the positive sides of my MFA experience.  The truth is, I both loved and un-loved the experience, and I’m OK with that dichotomy.  Here are 4 Great Things I Learned from the MFA.

Writing is a Priority.  When you invest the kind of time, effort–and let’s face it, finances–to go to graduate school, you have to make writing a priority.  Going back to school is a way of showing yourself and those around you that this writing habit is here to stay and you’re making it a top priority in your life.

When you make writing a priority, that’s when you start seeing results in the quality of your work.  I see this in a lot of my students.  At some point, they make a shift from dragging their feet to not being able to tear themselves away from their writing.  And that’s when the magic starts happening.  It’s really true: the more you write, the harder it is NOT to write, and when you hit that sweet-spot your writing starts to improve dramatically.

You Have to Read the Literature.  Until I went to graduate school, I thought that “literature” meant the classics-with-a-capital-C.  When I took my literature study courses in children’s writing, however, I noticed that the syllabus was a mix of classics, contemporary books and even some books I wouldn’t have considered “worthy” of serious study because they seemed rather silly.

The professor in this class helped me see the “literature” as the whole body of work that my own writing fits into and for the first time, I started reading books I would usually consider “pleasure reading” as part of my own personal literature study.  Now I no longer pass value judgments on what I choose to read, but select books based on how they broaden my understanding of how my work fits into this greater context.

A different literature professor taught me another valuable lesson about reading.  On the first day of class he said: “There are millions of books in the world and life’s too short to read them all.  I don’t want you wasting your precious reading time on something you can’t get through.  If you can’t get past page 5, stop.”  Of course, if we chose to stop reading an assigned book, we then had to defend our reasons for that decision in the following class, but this professor showed me that I had to respect my own reading time.  Since then, I’ve stopped forcing myself to get through books that just don’t resonate with me.  Yes, I give them an honest-to-goodness try, but if I can’t get past the first chapter, I stop.  Life’s too short, after all.

You Can Survive a Harsh Critique.  Let’s face it, some fellow MFA students are more well-versed in the art of tact than others.  Sooner or later, you’re going to get a harsh critique and you have to learn to deal with it.  For me, the pivotal moment came when I stopped thinking of the work as an extension of me.  This realization came sometime in my second semester, when I started submitting my work to literary magazines.  Getting rejection after rejection forced me to take a step back and say: “You know what?  I am not the work.  I’m me, and the work’s the work.  They are two separate things and if the work gets rejected it’s nothing personal.”  After that, my attitude in workshop went from being “please be nice” to “bring it on!”

When It Comes to a Writing Community, You Get Back What You Put Into It.  Although the program itself introduced me to a phenomenal writing community, I quickly realized that this was only the beginning.  I started making conferences a priority.  I began connecting with other writers through blogs and twitter and in-person events.  It became brutally obvious that while the MFA did provide a ready-made and wonderful community, to keep it up post-graduation I would have to put in a little more time and effort.

Every semester, we were required to attend 8 events in the writing community.  My first semester in the program, I attended only events sponsored by the school (there were plenty to choose from, after all, and I didn’t know where else to look).  Slowly, as I started getting more plugged into the writing world, I began to branch out.  My last semester, I think I went to 12 or 15 events, only 4 of which were school-sponsored.  The others were readings, conferences, workshops and talks I found by connecting with fellow writers.  This experience taught me that MFA events are a great place to start, but in the end the goal is to connect with the greater writing community.

Any of these resonate with you?  Which do you find most challenging?  (For me it’s definitely the first one… making writing a priority.)


Iggi & Gabi - All rights reserved © 2010-2011

I am a HowJoyful Design by Joy Kelley