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Friday, October 29, 2010


Sometimes in life all you can do is wait.  Wait for good news.  Or bad news.  Or any news at all.  But regardless, you're waiting.

It drives me crazy sometimes because when I want to know something, I want to know NOW, and everything else just feels like passing the time.

Writers know what it's like to wait.  You send a story out and then you wait.  You send a batch of queries and you wait.  You send your piece to a critique group and you wait.  And all the while, it feels like the writing process gets suspended in time, just waiting.

It's like this with the act of writing too.  Some stories just aren't ready to gush out as quickly as you would like.  Some books need time to ripen before you harvest them and put them on the page.  You can't always beat stories out of your brain with a stick; it just doesn't work that way.

Of course, we've all heard writers say that you can't wait around for inspiration, because writing is about BIC (butt in chair) and not just that glimmer of an idea.  And I agree, in theory.  But I also believe that writing is about balance and about recognizing when one idea needs time to lie low and when you need to work on something else for a change.

I call this Active Procrastination, a trick I perfected in college.  It works like this: when faced with a lot of tasks, some of which you're just not ready to deal with right now, you pick an easy and harmless task to do first.  Like watching a movie for your film class before starting on the scary research paper.  You're still getting stuff done, but you're letting your brain rest until you're ready to tackle the big things.

Lately I've had some big stuff on my plate, some of which I've had to be dealt with quickly because it was time-sensitive and this has totally discombobulated my writing practice.  Now I'm waiting.  Not for something relating to my writing but for someone central to my life.  And the minutes can't tick by fast enough.  In the meantime, I'm trying to read or write or do anything to pass the time.

Tick, tock, tick, tock.

What about you?  What do you do to make the waiting part of the writing process more bearable?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Big MFA Question

Today posted an interesting article: Should You Get an MFA?

This, of course, is the central question to anyone pursuing a DIY MFA.  Should you uproot your life or perform feats of time-management acrobatics in order to go back to school?  Or should you go it alone?

I chose the former and was glad I did because the MFA program taught me several things, though not all necessarily about writing.  We learned about the literature in our field and attended several publishing talks.  Of course, it helped that the program was specific to children's writing.  At the same time, though, I realized when I graduated that the MFA is not for everybody, which was the whole thought process that motivated DIY MFA back in September.

Now, as we near the end of October, I wanted to check in with all of you who participated in DIY MFA.  How is everything coming along for you?  Have you found some readings to attend and read some good books from your list?

Most importantly, how's the writing coming?

Monday, October 25, 2010

When Your Inner Writer Gets Spooked

For a few weeks now I've been writing away on my WIP, just cranking it out like it was my job or something.  Then all of a sudden, I got spooked.

It all started when I reached this one critical chapter, and I've been scared stiff ever since.  I know exactly what needs to happen in the chapter, I only have this chapter and a little piece of another left to go, and yet I'm terrified.

All these sneaky little doubts keep cluttering my mind.  What if I write this chapter and it totally flops?  What if I can't pull it off?  What if I only had a few good chapters in me and I used them all up already?

So I've been doing what I always do when I get scared: I've been reading a lot.  It's a way of getting all those scary thoughts out of my head and distracting myself.  Kind of like the mental equivalent of leaving a nightlight on.

What about you?  What do you do when your inner writer gets scared silly?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Which Comes First?

Last week, I got an interesting question about writing big papers and coming up with the argument.  The question was:
"Is it more like an argument that you will prove or disprove by reading the books? I don't know how I can make such any statement without reading the books and finding out how authors are approaching a topic..."  ~Kerryn Angell
This question got me thinking about the chicken-egg dilemma that often accompanies academic papers.  The problem is this: most papers we write in high school, college and even graduate school are artificial.  The parameters of the paper force us to look at only a limited number of works and construct an argument from there, ignoring the rest of the canon.  Not only that, oftentimes professors require us to get a stamp of approval on our "thesis statement" before we've even read the books!

The reason professors and colleges often use this method is because of a simple, yet powerful constraint: time.  Students just don't have the time to go on a hunting expedition to craft a scholarly paper so the teachers narrow the task down for us.  They limit the number of books we discuss in the paper, they check our thesis statements before we start, they make sure we're headed in the right direction.  They do all of this because they want students to focus on learning to write the paper, and not waste hours of time hunting down a thesis through piles of books.

In DIY MFA things are a bit different.  We have the freedom to make mistakes, beat our head against the wall and have a few false starts.  When I wrote my literature thesis for the MFA, I didn't tell the professor but I read at least ten books that fit the thesis.  We were only allowed to choose four, so I chose the ones that best illustrated my point and saved the rest of the books for later.  Someday I will go back to that literature thesis, rewrite it to encompass all the books I want to include.  But that is a project for a later time.

My point is, that when you're writing or planning the "Big Paper" for DIY MFA, you have the freedom to explore the literature first.  Read a lot.  Think a lot.  Then make up your mind about what you want to say about the literature.  The goal here isn't to write a mind-blowing paper (though that would be awesome).  Rather, the point is to build a strong relationship with reading and to see how books fit together, relate to each other.

In this aspect of DIY MFA it's OK to be a detective.  In fact, that's probably a good thing.  And who knows, maybe as you sleuth out your argument and look for connections between books, you might just find a few of these.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Just to Say Hi

Hi everyone,

iggi and I have been pondering something.  See, every so often, we come up with wild and crazy ideas like DIY MFA and other cool stuff and we want to give our loyal readers a preview before we make it public on the site.

Or sometimes we're thinking something could be a good idea but we want to test the waters and see if there's interest before announcing it to the whole world.  We need the eyes and ears of our trusted readers to give input.

Or sometimes we just have fun news to share and we want to get the word out to all our online friends.

To that end, I've set up a little sign-up form in the about tab and if you don't mind sharing your email and twitter name, iggi and I would love to have you on our contact list.

And don't worry, iggi and I don't spam and we will only email the whole list if it's something REALLY important.  Also we will never, EVER share your emails with any person or group.

And of course, iggi and I LOVE to hear from you so feel free to email or tweet and share your thoughts.  Or just say "Hi."  Whatever you like.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fitness for Writers by Missy Groeger

Today's post is by Missy Groeger, my good friend and fitness guru.  She's a personal trainer at New York City's Reebok Gym and has a background in nutrition as well as fitness.  A workout machine, Missy has participated in several fitness competitions, including Nationals.  Lately, I had been tossing around ideas on how to add a fitness component to DIY MFA and I KNEW I would have to ask Missy her advice.  Here follows Missy's customized workout and fitness session, specially designed for writers who spend most of their time sitting at their computers.

Foam Rolling:

Foam rolling helps break up adhesions from everyday wear and tear.  It is like getting a massage.  The action of foam rolling helps so you can use the muscle to its maximum extensibility and decrease chances of pulling a muscle and also reduce soreness!  (You can find foam rolls at fitness stores like Sports Authority and they come in a variety of lengths for easy storage.)

Roll over points at which you feel the most pressure and hold for 20-30 seconds.  Repeat 2-3 times.


Lower Back
Upper Back

Stretches for Major Muscle Groups:

There are many benefits of stretching.  It reduces muscle tension, increases range of motion in the joints, enhances muscle coordination, and increases circulation, which raises your energy level.  The following stretches are good for your hamstrings, lower back and hips, areas crucial for writers to stretch since you spend so much time seated.

Basic Strengthening Exercises:

(Do 3 sets of 15-20 Repetitions per exercise)


Superman (hold for 30-60 seconds)
Plank (hold for 30-60 seconds)
Side Lunge

Five things to keep in mind:
  1.     STRETCH
  2.     Work Large muscle groups
  3.     Sit up straight at your desk/computer
  4.     Get rest!!  Your muscles need time to repair themselves
  5.     Eat regular smaller meals

Monday, October 18, 2010

Going it Alone

As a writer, at some point you're going to find yourself alone.  Maybe it's because a deadline has got you shut up in your house for days, weeks, months even.  Maybe it's because you're just not ready to share your work even with your most trusted readers.  Maybe it's because you feel your work is fragile right now and you have to protect it from interlopers.  Whatever the reason, you and your work will become each others best company, so you'd better get along.

This is why I love this tree in the picture.  It's a lone cypress tree just of the coast of the Pebble Beach golf course in CA.  It's the only thing of green on that rock and yet it holds on with such tenacity.  It stands there, daring the world to get in its way: proud, tall, and alone.

Sometimes as writers we have to be the tree.  When people say "you can't grow there, it's a big rock" we just have to dig our roots in wherever they'll squeeze and show those doubtful meddlers we can grow.  When people say "you're all alone, a freak, an outsider" we just shrug, look out at the ocean and remember that while we might be alone, we've got the best view on the planet.

When it comes to writing, community isn't just about knowing when to connect with people, it's about knowing when you need to go to that room of your own and close the door.  When nurturing a small sprig of story, we can't let everyone water the plant or it will drown.  New ideas are fragile and can get easily squashed if not protected.

Julia Cameron calls this "containment" and I agree.  I've made the mistake in the past of letting too many writers and non-writers into my "circle of trust" and subsequently stories have been pulled in every old which-way and got torn to pieces.  Now I have a smaller circle of trust.  One person reads my rough drafts and pushes me forward, five readers form a critique group that reads more polished work and one reader is my go-to person for career stuff and big-picture notes on my work.  The rest of the time, my best company is me, myself and I.

What about you?  Are you comfortable going it alone sometimes?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Love of Literature Check-In

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Today I thought I'd do a Love of Literature check-in post to see how everyone's doing with their DIY MFA literature study.

What's on the bedside table?  What are you reading these days?  Right now, I'm flying through a bunch of verse novels: Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff, and Witness and Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse.

How's the reading list coming?  Back in September we talked about building a reading list.  It took me a while to put together a reading list and it's constantly changing, but at least having a general list helps me stay focused.  What about you?  How's your list looking?  Checked off any books yet?

The "Big Paper":  Last time we talked about the idea of writing a big literature paper, we discussed two different approaches to talking about a body of literature: author study and thematic study.  Have you chosen which paper you'd want to write (or at least outline?)  That's the first step.

Step 2--Topic:  For the next step, you need to decide on a topic you want to cover and start thinking about what argument you want to prove in your paper.  To give you an idea of papers I've written in the past, one was an author study where I discussed mother-daughter relationships in 4 different books by the same author.  For another class, I talked about books as a means of creating an experience for the reader and discussed various different books by different authors, books that create experiences in different ways.

Step 3--Making Your Point: Remember, the main purpose of writing a "big paper" is because you have something to say about the literature, some point you want to make for the reader.  The most important part of writing a "big paper" is coming up with this central argument and then using the literature to prove your point, in much the same way as a lawyer uses evidence to prove his case in court.  Some teachers call this step "Formulating your Thesis" but I prefer to say "Stating your Case" or "Making your Point."  Thesis sounds big and scary, and frankly, not everybody knows what a thesis statement is supposed to be.  But if we say this step is like making a point about the literature and then using books to prove our case... I don't know about you, but it makes a whole lot more sense in my brain.

So the next two steps for a "big paper" are thinking about what topic you want to address and then deciding what point you want to make about the literature.  Here are some examples:
  • Topic: Mother-daughter relationships in books by Carolyn Mackler
    Point: In all the books, the daughter finds a unique way to break away from the mother and assert her independence, but how the daughter chooses to do this is inextricably linked to the daughter's personality and identity.
  • Topic: Books as Experience
    Point: Some authors have chosen to stretch the very meaning of the concept “book.”  In these books, the interaction between the book and the reader is intricately designed by the author.  In doing so, these authors redefine what it means to “read” and push the reader to adopt a specific role in relation to the book, thus creating a unique reading experience.  As we examine the techniques and implications of designing a book-as-experience, we will discover that form must indeed follow function—or in this case, story.
So tell me, how's your literature study coming along?  Read anything good lately?

    Thursday, October 14, 2010

    Radio Silence

    Dear friends,

    I realize that I've been a bit absent the last two and a half days and I wanted to let you all know that I'm still here and still have plans to continue my writing projects!

    Here's what's been going on.  First the embarrassing.  On Monday I injured my right thumb, you know with all that hitchhiking I do when I'm not writing.  Anyway, I spent the week hopped up on ibuprophen and my right hand was out of commission, which made it hard to write.  I couldn't get a doctor's appointment until this morning and that was precisely when my thumb magically healed itself.  Feeling like a total idiot, I went to the doctor anyway and learned that there was nothing wrong with my thumb.  Never was.  The most that must have happened was that I flailed around in my sleep and banged it somehow.  I felt like a world-class moron.

    But it wasn't just the thumb that hindered my posting this week.  Truth is, I have a big deadline coming up and I've had to focus all my writing energy on it.  That said, this deadline will soon have passed and I'll be back to my frequent posting schedule as soon as I can.

    Finally, this fall has been a time of some big life decisions.  I can't share specifics just yet, but anyone of you who's ever had to make a BIG decision knows how it can take over your brain.  That's what's happened to me.

    In the end, I just wanted to write a quick something to let you all know that yes I'm still here and I will continue to post.  But for the next week or so, it just won't be as frequent as I promised.  I miss you guys and can't wait to be back full-swing.

    Monday, October 11, 2010

    A New Leaf

    Today is my first non-DIY MFA blog post in over a month.  Part of me is still feeling a bit of withdrawal from the September extrabloganza but part of me is relieved too.  Here are some things I learned from this month-long blogging project (and I think they relate to writing in general too).

    1) Blogging every single day with no breaks is hard, but totally worth it.  Don't get me wrong, it was totally worth it and a lot of fun too, but it was still a challenge.  A worthy challenge, sure, but still a challenge.

    2) Planning makes all the difference, but over-planning can kill creativity.  During September, I had a plan for each post I was going to write and when I would post it.  I wrote the posts usually the weekend before they were due to go up and programmed them to go live at the right time.  This was all well and good, but it did take some of the spontaneity out of the writing so the trick was finding a balance between over-planning and planning just enough.

    3) I can do it.  I know this one sounds like a no-brainer, but before September I had no clue if I had a project like this in me and if I could sustain the writing for a whole month, every day, no breaks.  Part of the reason I decided to embark on this project in the first place was to prove to myself that I could do it.  Now, when I start to doubt myself--"Can I really finish this novel?"--I'll just remember September and remind myself that if I could do this project, I can tackle a novel too.

    4) Having a topic you believe in makes all the difference.  Having readers who also believe in your topic is even better.  Excitement is contagious.  No matter how excited one person is about a project, the level of motivation will only go up if you put him or her together with equally motivated people.  You guys are a big part of the reason why I made it through this project.  Without your enthusiasm and great comments, it would've been really tough.

    5) I still have a lot of DIY MFA to share so it's not over yet!  Though September is behind us and I've covered the basics of DIY MFA, there are still plenty of topics to share.  Here's my plan for this blog going forward:

    Monday/Wednesday/Friday: I'll continue writing about DIY MFA and topics relating to it (like craft or literature), though I won't separate topics according to day like I did with the DIY MFA "classes".  Every so often, I'll do a Monday-Friday week-long series on one topic (and I'll try to announce when those are coming so you'll know to check back during that week).  For the most part, though, I'll be posting more organically, as topics come to me.

    Tuesday/Thursday: These will be my "wild card" days when I'll post things that strike me more spontaneously, though writing and creativity will usually be central to the topic at hand, I may branch out to other topics those days as well.  I also may occasionally give myself a day off on a Tues. or Thurs.

    Saturday/Sunday: iggi and I will take a much-needed weekend break so we can come up with new and exciting blog posts for the following week.

    Sound like fun?  I hope so.  I'm a little nervous about abandoning the DIY MFA structure but I think this plan will work nicely and if it doesn't I'll change things up.  Of course, if I do decide to change things on you, I'll make sure to let you know.

    Friday, October 8, 2010

    Blog Party!

    Welcome to the last part of the iggi U celebration!  Starting today iggi and I are hosting a weekend-long blog party here on this blog.

    What's a blog party, you ask?  It's a chance for you to share your blog with the rest of iggi U and also a chance for you all to find new exciting blogs to follow.

    Sounds like fun?  Here's how it works:
    • Be a follower here at iggi&gabi.
    • Leave a comment on this post, sharing your blog info and telling us a little about what you blog about.  Also tell us what iggi-licious yummies you plan to bring to the party!
    • Invite some friends and spread the word.
    • Visit at least 3 new blogs over the weekend and leave comments.  Follow those blogs if you like.
    • I'll check the comments throughout the weekend, visit as many blogs as I can and follow them if I'm not already following.
    So come on in, enjoy the weather (it's always sunny at iggi U) and meet some fellow bloggers and writers.

    As for what iggi-licious treats I'm bringing, I've made iggi's favorite: Brazilian chocolate truffles called brigadeiros.

    Thursday, October 7, 2010

    Let's Get Ready to Party!

    Hello DIY MFA peeps!  Are you enjoying commencement week so far?  I hope you liked the guest posts because I know I sure did.

    Today I wanted to take care of some DIY MFA orders of business.  First, the exciting news.  Some of you may have noticed the bright blue button in the sidebar already, but our online DIY MFA community is now up and running.  So come join, share your DIY MFA experiences and connect with other writers.  Most importantly, have fun!

    Second, for our last big DIY MFA celebration I'll be hosting a Weekend Blog Party right here on this blog.  The idea is for everyone to have a chance to promote their own blogs and find lots of new blogs to follow (not to mention, gain some new followers too!)  I got this idea from Karen G's fabulous blog Coming Down the Mountain.  She hosted a Labor Day BBQ, and I participated.  It was loads of fun and I got a ton of new followers and found several great blogs to follow as well!

    Here's how it works:

    • Blog Party starts Friday!
    • Be a follower here at iggi&gabi.
    • Leave a comment on Friday's post, sharing your blog info and telling us a little about what you blog about.  Also tell us what iggi-licious yummies you plan to bring to the party!
    • Invite some friends.
    • Visit at least 3 new blogs over the weekend and leave comments.  Follow those blogs if you like.
    • I'll check the comments throughout the weekend, visit as many blogs as I can and follow them if I'm not already.

    Finally, the contest.  As you all may recall, those DIY MFA participants who registered at iggi U were automatically enrolled in a contest.

    Prize: a free critique by yours truly on up to 25 pages of your work (double-spaced, 12pt font).

    This morning I picked the winner using the oh-so-scientific method of writing names on paper and pulling one from a hat.  And the winner is...


    *fumbles with envelope*

    *opens envelope*

    Bess Weatherby!

    Bess, please email your piece as a .doc file and I'll send you your critique by the end of October.  Congratulations Bess; can't wait to read your piece.

    And thank you to all of you who helped make the DIY MFA extrabloganza so much fun.  You guys rock!

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010

    The Universe of iggi U: Student Speaker - SA Larsen

    Today we have our Student Speaker guest post and blogfest!  SA Larsen (AKA Sheri) was one of the first people to join in on DIY MFA and has been a part of this blog community since... almost since when this blog started.  She's a young adult and middle grade writer, wife, and mother to four humanoids. A romantic at heart and self-proclaimed chocoholic, she's a lover of all things paranormal and the owner of the infamous Graffiti Wall on Writers' Ally. She can be found on Twitter and Facebook. Read on for Sheri's take on DIY MFA and don't forget to scroll to the bottom, to read other posts by other DIY MFAers.  And now, here's Sheri!

    Writing is an evolution for both writer and the works he or she produces. A successful writer is not merely one who is published, but one willing to constantly train and mature within the craft.

    Over the last four weeks, iggi U has taken us from one well mapped-out element of writing to the next and given us our own in-house Do-It-Yourself MFA. Totally cool! Technique, reading habits, and inspiration have all been covered. I, for one, will take with me the sense of community developed here and Gabi’s enthusiasm for the written word. It’s contagious, and I love that.

    The idea of mind mapping is one of the exciting techniques I’ve honed while at iggi U. It almost reminded me of my theatre classes when the instructor gave us a phrase, and as we acted it out, he’d toss another completely unrelated phrase at us. This kind of activity is great, pushing us out of my comfort zone and beyond our average, mundane thoughts. Personal translation: resurrection from the cautious and otherwise boring scenes, plots, or sub-plots I might have come up with. It’s an innovative way to stretch those mental and creative muscles. I’ve tucked this tool away in my creative writing arsenal for the next time I’m jittery about taking a writing risk.

    If you’re anything like me, once I have a scene or a chapter in mind, I tend to go on autopilot and just write. I’m definitely a pantser. Outlining is too restrictive for my squishy brain. Grid out my gray matter and you might as well have erased my thought process entirely. But Gabi’s lessons on the In’s and Out’s of Plotting and the Character Compass, not to mention TADA—which is magnificent, BTW—got me thinking. An itemized list of capital A to G with numbers trailing behind like the Pied Piper isn’t necessary. But I also don’t need to abandon planning all together. I can ask myself simple questions, analyzing conflict, and character traits and growth as I write. If I find any weaknesses, I can turn to the mind mapping method to develop more. And even if I find solid, engaging conflict, I can still use this technique to add a little heat and spice, and maybe deepen the plot in a way I hadn’t thought of yet. I call this non-restrictive, and I’ll definitely be applying this to my writing rhymes.

    The last element I’d like to mention is the idea of Reading Like a Writer. This happens to be a topic I’ve studied a lot. Don’t get me wrong; it is vital we read for pleasure. But learning to have that ‘writer’s eye’ while reading other’s work is a form of invaluable training for a writer. I plan on honing this method even more now.

    Overall, iggi U has been a wonderful experience and has given me insight into my personal workings as a writer. And best of all, the lessons and discussions can be a continued writing resource by the simple click of a key and a link.

    I’d like to thank Gabi for sharing her talents and love of writing with us.

    Thank you Sheri, and thank you everyone who helped make DIY MFA a success.  Now, check out these awesome links below.

    Tuesday, October 5, 2010

    DIY MFA Keynote Speech: Benjamin Andrew Moore

    Today's keynote speaker is Benjamin Andrew Moore, a fellow classmate of mine from the New School and the non-fiction and comics editor at Verbal Pyrotechnics.  Ben's writing caught my eye and captured my sense of humor with its satirical wit.  This guy is FUNNY!  But what's great about Ben's work is that it's also honest and real, and while he might have an ironic way of wording things, when you cut through to what he's really saying, you realize he's talking about something more serious than just good-humored fun.

    Ben has a "satirical blog" Come Look At My Chest Hair and is a writer for  As Ben says: "If you need to warn people about the content of the Chest Hair blog, be my guest."  It involves chest hair; you have been warned.  :)  Without further ado, here's Ben's take on DIY MFA.

    Ninety percent of everything is terrible, give or take.

    Ninety percent of movies are terrible, ninety percent of television shows, ninety percent of plays, of videogames, of board games, of human beings, of restaurants, of clothing lines, of orange and grape-flavored beverages, and of books. Fiction, ninety percent of the time, is laughable, bland, stupid, trite, purposeless, and—say it with me—terrible, terrible, terrible. I wish it weren’t true, dear readers, but so it goes!

    The problem is, nobody takes risks and nobody’s original. Formula is king and clichés are its freaking court jesters. Humor is hard to come by, drama is over-serious—not to mention pretentious—mysteries are ham-fisted, vampire love books aren’t even romantic, and while Holden Caulfield was unrepentantly awesome, his millions upon millions of knock-offs were most definitely not. The Chocolate War? I mean, are you kidding me, Robert Cormier?

    But it doesn’t have to be this way. It really doesn’t. That ten percent of quality is proof.

    As writers, all you have to do is not rip off the books and stories and ideas that came before yours. It’s okay to be influenced by the things that you love, but it’s not okay to just re-do them with your prose in place of—say—F. Scott Fitzgerald’s. The Great Gatsby was great, sure, hence the title. But that doesn’t mean you should rewrite it. That doesn’t mean you should rip it off.

    Be bold. Take risks. It’s lame, and it’s clichéd, and it probably even sounds stupid, but go big or go on home. Please, I beg of you, just try to create something that’s never been done before. A high fantasy book shouldn’t be the Lord of the Rings Part Fourteen. Historical thrillers shouldn’t be reminiscent of The Da Vinci Code, which in and of itself was a just rip-off of Angels and Demons, which in and of itself was just another in that ninety percent, give or take, of terrible books.

    The DIY MFA is the perfect opportunity to grow as a writer on your own terms, away from the occasionally cannibalistic world of Creative Writing. Hell, if people despise your writing, that doesn’t even mean it’s bad! Once upon a time, people hated Edgar Allan Poe, Henry David Thoreau, William Faulkner, William S. Burroughs, Stanley Kubrick, Vincent Van Gogh, and so on, and so on, and on, and on. In fact, people hating your writing might actually mean you’re doing something right. Bravo.

    Being creative isn’t easy. Truth be told, it’s can be really, really hard at times. But then if it’s so damn difficult for you, why’d you start writing in the first place?

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    DIY MFA Keynote Speech: Shannon Whitney Messenger

    Today's keynote speaker is the lovely Shannon Whitney Messenger.  I first came across Shannon's blog over the summer and right away I was hooked by her charming and honest style.  She writes Middle Grade Fantasy and is repped by Laura Rennert with Andrea Brown Literary Agency. And--as if she didn't have enough on her plate--she's also one of the founders and organizers of WriteOnCon, a free online writer's conference for kidlit writers.  I don't know about you, but I can't wait to see her book on the shelf and read it for myself!  Here are Shannon's thoughts and advice about DIY MFA.

    I’ll admit it--when Gabriela first asked me to write one of her commencement speeches for DIY MFA, my reaction was…uh…why me? I don’t have an MFA. I’m not published yet. I’m not even cool. So what could I possibly say to inspire you guys?

    But then I thought about how I got to be where I am right now.

    I’d had an idea I’d been researching—but I kept putting off writing it. I’d tell my husband, next week. Next month.
    I stalled for almost two years.

    Then I went to an author event called Project Book Babe, where I met published writers for the first time. I wanted to be them. It was time to write the darn book.

    Two months later I had an eight-figure-book-deal and I’d taken over the literary world.

    Um…yeah—I wish!

    Here’s what really happened:

    I started Draft 1 in April 2009. By July, I was on Draft 7—and realizing that where I’d ended the book should really be the 2/3 point. I needed help. So I started reading author blogs and figured out what I was missing: critique partners.

    By August I started my own blog, hoping to connect with other writers and swap pages. By October I’d found one. And I’d begun to learn about publishing. Agents. Queries. I realized if I was going to do this for real, I needed to educate myself—and fast.

    So I followed agents’ blogs. Editors’ blogs.  I registered for a writer’s conference. I took a query workshop. I added another awesome critique partner. All the while I was writing, writing, writing.

    By November I was on Draft 11, and one of my CPs emailed me. You’re getting better, she said.

    By mid January I typed the two words I hadn’t let myself type until that point (at least not together). The End. It was Draft 12.

    I brought the first chapter of Draft 12 with me to the writer’s conference a few weeks later. I pitched my book to agents—and they asked for partials. My pages won a Conference Choice Award.

    When I came home it took me three weeks of obsessing to send my query. (Okay, fine, maybe some of my CPs had to bully me into it—whatever!)

    Two weeks later I had an offer of rep from my dream agent.

    It had been just slightly less than eleven months since the day I decided it was time to start writing. And hopefully someday soon—once I finish yet another revision—I’ll sell my book and finally reach my dream of being published.

    So why am I telling you this?

    Because I’ve learned two things along that journey.

    1. You have to educate yourself as much as possible. Read blogs. Get to know other writers. Learn all you can about writing and publishing—and then learn more. There is always more to learn.

    2. In order to be a writer, you have to write.

    So you’ve made HUGE progress with the first one by following this program. The wealth of information Gabriela has taken the time to provide is invaluable.

    Now it’s time to write.

    Whether you’re starting your first draft or revising for the thousandth time, the most important thing is to write.

    Lose yourself in your story.

    Don’t worry about making it perfect—that will come with revision. For now, just write—because each word you type brings you a little bit closer to your dream. So get started!

    Happy writing everyone!

    Sunday, October 3, 2010

    Commencement Means Beginning

    There's a reason I called this week "Commencement Week" and not "Graduation Week."  The latter implies an ending, a big accomplishment, reaching of a goal.  But that's not what DIY MFA is all about.  This past month here at iggi U, we've been working on the pre-DIY MFA, the preparation of it all.  Now it's time to implement it.  Commencement is about the start of something new, and that's exactly what DIY MFA is all about.

    Here are some things I've learned on my journey and I hope by sharing them with you, it will help you as you embark on yours.

    Embrace the open road.  We've got an empty road ahead of us, which can be both terrifying and exciting.  Sometimes all those endless possibilities might seem scary, but remember this: they're just possibilities, not absolutes.  You can always change your mind.

    Get good at juggling.  Sometimes it will seem like you're juggling a lot, between all the reading, writing, critiquing and community.  But each piece of the DIY MFA program is key to developing a well-rounded writing life.  Just remember, it's not about quantity in any one area, it's about the overall balance.

    Learn to recognize when you're in the Fun House.  Not everyone will understand DIY MFA.  They might treat you like you're crazy for following your writing dreams.  "Well, if it's not real school, can't you just skip a day?"  Learn to see when people are distorting your vision and stand up for your writing life.

    Develop a thick skin.  Writing is tough.  Having people read your writing is even tougher, but you can't spend your life protecting your work from critics.  After all, what's the point of writing it if no one will ever read it?  Whenever your work is picked to shreds, remember: "It's not me, it's the work."

    Recognize when the work is "excellent enough."  Just as in golf you cannot get a perfect score because you can always do better, so it is with writing.  I had a teacher once who's catch phrase was "make it better."  Whatever we brought in, she'd say "let's see how we can make it better" and so the critique would begin.  Sure, you could play the "make it better" game forever and never submit any of your work, but sooner or later you have to decide if the work is "excellent enough" and accept it as it is.

    As you embark on your DIY MFA, I can promise you two things:
    1. It might be a lot of things, but DIY MFA will never be boring.
    2. iggi and I will still be here, posting away to help inspire--or at the very least, amuse you--through the days that aren't so much fun.
    Thank you all for making the DIY MFA project so great and I'm looking forward to hearing how your DIY MFAs develop.

    Saturday, October 2, 2010

    The T-Word

    Thesis is such an ugly word.  I hear it and right away I start getting the willies.  Something about the idea of a thesis can be intimidating, paralyzing even.  I bet you're thinking, this is a DIY MFA... which means I can do whatever I want, so why do I have to write a *gag* thesis?

    Sure, DIY means Do-It-Yourself, so if all you want is to dabble in writing, you don't have to write a thesis.  But if we're really serious about our writing, we have to be in it for the long haul and sooner or later that means writing something "big."  And by "big" I mean anything: a collection of short stories, a collection of essays, 100 1-page flash fiction pieces, a novel, a memoir, a collection of poems.  I'm not saying that "size matters," but... well... when it comes to writing, it sort of does.  After all, you can't just write one story and rest on your laurels for the rest of your life.  Well, theoretically you can but the you're not really a writer.  You're just a laurel-sitter.

    Chances are if you're a writer you'll have to start a big project at some point, and I'm guessing that if you're reading this you are one of the chosen ones.  And that's where the THESIS comes in.

    In honor of NaNoWriMo I'll be posting a series every weekend between now and the end of November about getting through a "big project."  I'm currently working on a schedule of topics and I'll keep you all posted (ha ha, pun intended!).  Even if you're not doing NaNoWriMo--I'm not... my deadline is in October--you can still learn tips on getting through a big project.  Just stop by and read up on how to jump through the ultimate MFA hoop.  Thesis...dum dum dummmm.

    Remember, the beauty of a DIY MFA thesis is that you come out of it with a full-on book (unlike an MFA Thesis where you might write only half of the book, or do one revision or do one small part of the process).  The DIY MFA thesis is more involved because our goal is to come out of it with a book that's ready to query.  It might take you months, even a year or two, but when you're done with it you'll have your book and you'll be ready for the next step.

    Excited?  I am.  Starting after Commencement Week, I'll do my first Thesis Project post, so stay tuned.

    Friday, October 1, 2010

    DIY MFA: Week 4 In Review

    Hello everyone!

    Hope you all had a great week.  I started teaching my second class this week and it's been crazy fun!  The kids in my Brooklyn class are awesome and the Manhattan class is so great, when I get to the end I always feel like we'd just started.  It feels a like the time just disappears.

    But enough about me.  Can you believe September's done?  I still can't believe it.  DIY MFA just flew by and mostly that's thanks to you all because you made it just so easy and fun.  I just wanted to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who's participated in DIY MFA this past month.  Whether it was by reading the posts, commenting, re-tweeting posts, or sharing your DIY MFA experiences on your own blogs, you guys have helped make this project a success!  And you make iggi and me smile inside and out.

    Never fear, DIY MFA isn't going away.  We're having a week-long celebration this coming week and after that, it's back to DIY MFA, only on a modified, less intense schedule.  For more details about Commencement Week, check out Thursday's post.  Also, don't forget to sign up for the Blogfest and share your DIY MFA experiences with everyone!

    Recap of this Week in DIY MFA:

    Saturday: Keeping a Journal
    I've kept a notebook/journal since I was a kid and I've always found it was an important part of my writing life.  Here are some of my thoughts about keeping a journal.

    Sunday: Writing Out
    Going out for a writing date can be so much fun and so productive.  Here are some tips on the etiquette of writing out as well as a list of my favorite spots in NYC.  Check out the comments for other suggestions for great writing spots. 

    Monday:  Writing a "Big Paper"
    Writing a larger paper on a body of literature is central to the Love of Literature section of DIY MFA.  In this post, we kick-start a blog series about how to put together a study of multiple books and what to do with the paper (or paper outline) once you've put it together.

    Tuesday: DIY MFA Community
    Now that DIY MFA is coming to a close, iggi and I are making big plans for a DIY MFA online community to serve as a companion to this blog.  Comment on this post with your suggestions and ideas.  Also, if you'd like to help out, send me an email: iggingabi[at]gmail[dot]com

    Wednesday:  Guest Post: "For All the Haters" by Elizabeth Dunn-Ruiz
    Elizabeth writes about why people are often afraid of poetry and why it's important to make sure the "container is the right size for your content."  This is a fabulous guest post about the beauty of poetry and why it's an indispensable part of a writer's repertoire.

    Thursday:  Let's Get this Party Started
    This wrap-up post concludes the September portion of DIY MFA.  But fear not, there is still much DIY MFA to come and iggi and I aren't going anywhere.  So come join us in our celebration of DIY MFA with our Commencement week-long party.  And get ready for more DIY MFA to come.

    Thank you all for making DIY MFA so much fun.  You rock! 

    p.s.  I totally forgot to mention this earlier so I'm adding it in now.  Check out my ode to Banned Books Week over at Verbal Pyrotechnics.  Have a great weekend everybody!

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