DIY MFA Radio Interview with Gabriela Pereira

SP: Welcome Gabriela! Before we get into all things DIY MFA, your book, podcast and vision, we would love to hear a bit about you and your writing life! What’s the backstory? What launched you into this writing-DIY journey?

DIY MFA began as an experiment. I was graduating from a traditional MFA program and I loved the program so much I did not want to graduate. So, I was sitting in a rickety old wooden pew of a West Village church for the graduation ceremony and I half expected the skies to part and beams of light to shine down through the stained glass windows and for the literary gods to whisper from on high, “You are now a writer.”

But that totally did not happen. Instead, I got this crazy idea. I thought: What if I could continue this MFA experience on my own as a do-it-yourself thing? What would that look like? So, after graduation, I went home and did what any self-respecting writer would do in that situation: I wrote about it.

At the time, I had this teeny-tiny blog with all of 12 followers (one of whom was my mother), so I wrote a post on it basically asking my readers: “If there was a DIY version of the MFA, would you do it?” Now, given my ridiculously small audience, I fully expected my post to go out into the ether and I’d never hear anything about it again. The next day I was shocked to discover dozens of comments on that post and my inbox overflowing with messages. Clearly I had hit on something that resonated with people.

The rest, as they say, is history.

SP: The DIY MFA book came out in 2016, and not surprisingly, the buzz of this movement has not died down but grown! (For those who are not familiar with DIY MFA, go visit her site & sign up for her podcast, and you’ll see why!) Can you tell us a bit more about the book Itself?

If DIY MFA were a school, the DIY MFA book would be a cross between the student handbook and the main textbook summing up all of the curriculum. Essentially, it covers all the basic components of the DIY MFA curriculum, from building strong writing habits to mastering the craft and building your author platform. Of course, many writers want a deeper learning experience than merely reading a book, which is why we also offer courses at DIY MFA. That said, I always tell folks new to DIY MFA to start with the book. It’s a great way to get to know my teaching style and see if the DIY MFA philosophy works for you. 

SP: What chapter in the book (or concept) has had the most impact on readers?

It’s not a single chapter, but the whole “Read with Purpose” section of the book and DIY MFA philosophy is probably the part that has had the most impact. There are many books on the craft of writing and there are many resources (online and offline) to help writers build community. The piece that has been missing for a long time is the reading.

I’ve been told by many writers and fans of DIY MFA that the “Read with Purpose” section is the part they thought they needed the least and afterwards realized they couldn’t live without it. As writers, we are also readers, but we often dismiss reading as something extra that we do “on the side.” For most of us writers, reading is a fun, relaxing activity, so it’s easy to overlook its importance to our writing. Yet, when we learn how to read with a writer’s eye, it changes how we look at literature. I’ve been told by some of my students that once they started reading like a writer, they could never again look at books the same way. I’d say the latter is one of my proudest accomplishments.

SP: Talking about DIY MFA mindset, I find this quote surprisingly refreshing “The only reason writers don’t write is because they just don’t want it badly enough.” It kinda puts the power back in the authors court to sit at the table and write. Do you have any tips for gaining motivation and discipline?

At DIY MFA, we don’t believe in any one universal tactic or piece of advice, because what works for one writer might not work for another. In fact, many of us writers will beat ourselves up if we try some piece of writing advice and it doesn’t work for us. For instance, in his excellent memoir, Stephen King gives the advice to write 2,000 words per day. I tried that advice, and failed miserably at it. This is because my productivity is more feast-or-famine than a predictable number of words.

At first, I got very down on myself because I couldn’t follow Stephen King’s advice. (After all, he’s Stephen King…so, if he said it, it must be true!) Then I realized that his advice simply wasn’t the right fit for me. That’s not to say that the advice is bad; for some writers, it might totally work, but for writers like me it was more demoralizing than it was helpful.

Instead of trying to copy-paste other writers’ advice onto my life, I dug deeper and tried to get to the heart of what the advice really means, then apply that core element of the advice instead. For instance, Stephen King’s advice to write 2,000 isn’t really about how many words we should write, but that we should be writing something on a regular basis. For some writers, that might mean writing 2,000 words every day like clockwork. For other writers (like me) this might look more like writing 100 words one day and 5,000 words the next. The key is adapting the advice to what works for you.

So, if I were to give fellow writers one tip, it would be: develop a system for testing tips and advice. Don’t just follow advice because a famous author says it. Think for yourself and adapt and personalize any advice you receive. There are no “best practices” when it comes to writing; the only best practice is what works best for you.

SP: What’s the most surprising thing that’s come from writing this book, starting your podcast, and launching the vision, DIY MFA?

Honestly, I never expected DIY MFA to become my full-time work. When I started, I thought it would be a fun side project that might help supplement my income, but I never expected it to become the work I would do full-time. Plus, I never expected to be running an entire business. Mastering the business side has been one of the most challenging—and also rewarding—aspects of DIY MFA.

SP: What tips do you have for authors seeking to build community? Have you seen communities grow out of DIY MFA? From people reading it together and growing in their craft?

One of the best things writers can do to build community is take a class or join an association or online community. We’ve certainly seen members of our courses and our online members HUB form friendships and their own mini-communities. For example, some writers who met via one of our courses became fast friends and continued meeting on their own even after the course was over.

Many of my own writing friends and colleagues were folks I met by taking writing classes both before and during the MFA. And, while not all writers can splurge on classes, there are many free options available as well. At DIY MFA we have a free Facebook group just for writers who are fans of the book and website (we send a special invite to everyone who joins our newsletter). Plus, there are many online writing challenges like StoryADay and NaNoWriMo that also have communities associated with them. The key is to shop around and try a few different options until you find the community that works best for you.

SP: Lastly, where can we find you and your book? How can we get involved?

The best way to get involved with DIY MFA is to hop over to the website and sign up for our newsletter (diymfa.com/join). You’ll get a free DIY MFA Starter Kit, plus you’ll be first to hear when we have cool new things happening.

Gabriela Pereira is an author, speaker, and entrepreneur who wants to challenge the status quo of higher education. As the founder and instigator of DIYMFA.com, her mission is to empower writers, artists and other creatives to take an entrepreneurial approach to their education and professional growth.

Gabriela earned her MFA in writing from The New School and speaks at college campuses and national conferences. She is also the host of DIY MFA Radio, a popular podcast where she interviews bestselling authors and book industry professionals and author of the book DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build Your Community.

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