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Thursday, July 15, 2010

DIY MFA: A Plan for Writers New and Experienced

I recently graduated from an MFA program in creative writing, and as I have blogged previously MFA programs, while valuable, are also flawed.  Don't get me wrong, I am so glad I had that experience and would not trade it for anything.  I do, however, realize that not all writers are as lucky as I was to be able to do an MFA.  For some it's the geography--there just isn't an MFA program conveniently located in their hometown.  For others, work/family/life make going back to school complicated.  And let's not forget the budget issue; MFA's aren't cheap and writing isn't exactly a career that guarantees piles of moolah.

Which brings me to the point of this post.  For some time now I've been tossing around a crazy idea: What if there were such a thing as a Do-It-Yourself MFA in Creative Writing?  The advantage of a DIY MFA is that writers can complete the work at their own pace, tailor the writing/reading/study plan to their specific genre or interests, and anyone could do it regardless of geography, logistics or budget.

To that end, I've decided to do a series of posts about DIY MFA (just in time for this Blogfest)!  Stay tuned for more posts about how to put together your own tailor-made MFA writing program.

Disclaimer: DIY MFA means you don't get that shiny piece of paper at the end of it all and the clouds will not part and a beam of light will not anoint you a "Master of Fine Arts in Writing."  So if you're into pieces of paper, beams of light and so forth, I suggest you get your application together and go for the real deal.  But if your goal is to improve your reading and writing skills, work on craft and challenge yourself, then maybe a DIY MFA is for you.  Curious about what goes into a DIY MFA?  Read on.

Ingredients for a DIY MFA

Books:  If you want to create a DIY MFA you'll need access to books.  That means if you're living on a desert island with no libraries, bookstores or internet, you'll have a hard time putting together a DIY MFA.  Then again, if you're on a desert island with no libraries, bookstores or internet, you probably wouldn't be reading this anyway.  As you put together your DIY MFA, one of the things you'll need to do is develop a reading list.

Critique Partners:  You'll need at least 2 trusted readers to whom you can send writing for feedback.  The beauty of this is that with the internet at your fingertips, you don't even need to be on the same continent as your critique partners.  Of course, face-to-face meetings are great, but it's certainly not a deal-breaker if you must do critiques via email.

Time:  You will need to set aside some amount of time each week (even if it's only an hour or two on a weekend afternoon) for your writing.  Honing your craft takes time and you must protect this time from interlopers.  This is the advantage of being in an MFA program: if someone starts getting in the way of your writing time you can just say "sorry, got schoolwork."  In a DIY MFA you'll have to protect your writing time on your own.

Community:  Perhaps the most valuable aspect of going to an MFA program was the opportunity to meet other writers (both emerging writers like myself and established writers).  My MFA program required that we attend a minimum of 8 readings each semester and I think that is extremely important.  In a DIY MFA, you don't have a built-in set of readings sponsored by the school to choose from.  Instead, you'll have to hunt down readings and literary events for yourself.  Some places to look: your local bookstore or library, poets.org (they have a great events calendar), and literary associations.

Check back for more posts about the DIY MFA.

13 comments:

salarsenッ said...

I love this. You've got me thinking. In the first few paragraphs, you've definitely described me and my situation. I'll be back.

Andrew Rosenberg said...

Do I get a degree with this? ;)

Ghenet said...

I love this too! Even with an MFA, these are things I can continue doing post-MFA. The learning, reading, absorbing, writing and critiquing doesn't end with the degree!

gabi said...

Sher - Glad you liked and could relate. I think a lot of people are in the same boat and want to do an MFA but life and logistics just don't line up.

Andrew - Unfortunately I am not an accredited university. ;) But how about the next best thing? I'm thinking of making a shiny new DIY MFA badge to go with the super-secret, super-exciting contest I have planned for fall. Stay tuned!

Ghenet - You are so totally right. The MFA definitely doesn't end with graduation and it's all about building a fulfilling writer's life beyond the degree.

C Bailey said...

I have unemployed friends with Master's degrees that could back you up on this. I love this post and your site is soooooo cute.

Thanks for making sure new writer hear that the information is accessible without the degree. People with degrees can tell you that it doesn't equal a job, only time and dedication do.

PS. Did I mention how cute your site is!! Love it.

Dawn Maria said...

What a great idea!

WritersBlockNZ said...

hehe I might have to give this one a go!

gabi said...

C Bailey - You're so right that a degree does not equal a job, at least not when it comes to the MFA in creative writing. My goal with DIY MFA is to help people get as many of the benefits of the MFA without having to get the actual degree.

And I'm so glad you liked the site. iggi does its best to look its cutest when there are visitors. ;)

Dawn Maria and WritersBlockNZ - Welcome! Glad you guys liked the post. Stay tuned because there's plenty more coming on this subject.

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

Yay! I love this idea! I was all set to go get my MFA at EWU in Washington, but then I met my husband and my life completely changed. Now it's impossible for me to go to school and get that MFA. I have my Bachelor's in writing, but I still plan on getting the MFA later in life when it's more doable. :)

L'Aussie said...

This is great. I'll be a participant for sure with or without a shiny badge..:)

Shaddy said...

I'm thirsty for this. I suspect I'll be signing up ASAP.

Janice said...

Count me in. I'm a course junkie and only wish I could afford an MFA - in my deams, maybe ;)

Wannabe Writer said...

Fantastic. I'm going to give this a try. Looking forward to finding your other posts on this topic.

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