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.