Tuesday, November 15, 2011

DIY MFA: A Guest Post and a Brilliant Opportunity from Gabriela Pereira


Guest Post by Gabriela Pereira

Before I begin, I wanted to thank Marissa and Martina for hosting me here at Adventures in Children's Publishing. Today I'll be discussing DIY MFA, an alternative to the traditional MFA route that can be a great fit for children's book writers.

Perhaps the biggest barrier between children's book writers and the rest of the literary world is one of misunderstanding. Few people outside the children's book world truly understand the artistry and effort that goes into writing for a young audience. How many of us have heard someone tell us: "You write kids' books? You know, I've always wanted to write a picture book, if I could only find the time." To which, I usually respond: "Oh, you do brain surgery? I've always wanted to saw someone's skull open, if I could only find the time."

OK, I'm being a little over the top here, but the point is that people who don't read kids books or teen literature and don't study the craft... they just don't get what we do. This problem pervades not only the writing world in general, but also realm of MFA.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, MFA stands for Masters of Fine Art and it's the graduate degree most frequently offered for creative writing. I happened to attend an MFA program, concentrating in Writing for Children--and many of those same prejudices against children's literature are still thriving.

This was why, when I graduated, I developed DIY MFA. My goal was to bridge the gap between graduate-style study and writers who have been shut out of that world. For some writers, this exclusion comes from the hefty MFA price tag or the rigid requirements on their time. Other writers feel like they're on the fringe of the scholarly world simply because they have chosen to write in a category that is not "literary." Currently there are only a handful of schools that offer MFA's in Writing for Children.

Who is DIY MFA for?

The philosophy behind DIY MFA is that all forms of writing can be approached in a scholarly manner, that no writer should be excluded from an in-depth study of writing. DIY MFA does not discriminate against writers based on where they are on their journey or what they have chosen in terms of genre and writing style. That applies to Writing for Children as well. At DIY MFA, we embrace our differences and take pride in the diverse backgrounds and outlooks of our writers. Being different is not a disability. It’s a strength.

There is only one requirement, one common thread ties all DIY MFA writers together. Every writer participating in DIY MFA is serious about becoming a stronger writer, making writing a priority, and having fun with the creative process.

Why Do-It-Yourself?

The core belief of DIY MFA is that no two writers will share the exact same path, that you can't shove a writer into a cookie-cutter system and expect them to grow creatively as artists. Rather, with DIY MFA each writer will create a personalized plan that fits his or her needs, which in turn empowers writers to take ownership of their writing journey.

Taking responsibility for our writing can be terrifying, but the do-it-yourself part of DIY MFA is crucial to each writer’s success. When you take ownership of your writing education, not only do you become a more empowered writer, you also create a writing life that’s sustainable for the long term. A prescribed plan is great and might even work for a short while, but over time writers will lose energy, maybe even quit. DIY MFA is about constantly reevaluating and reinventing your writing life so that it works for you for as long as you want to write.

Not only that, but DIY MFA can work both for writers who want the MFA experience but can't do it, as well as for writers who have completed a traditional MFA and want to continue their study for the long term. DIY MFA lasts as long as you need it.

How does DIY MFA work?

Because I did an MFA myself, I spent a lot of time researching and comparing writing programs. What I discovered was that MFA programs--despite being at very different schools, with different philosophies--have certain threads in common. Regardless of the many differences, all MFA programs essentially boil down to one simple formula:

Reading + Writing + Workshop + Community = MFA

What is more, while most traditional MFA's emphasize literary fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction, nothing about the MFA formula excludes Writing for Children or any mainstream genres. This means that there is no reason that the MFA approach cannot be applied to writing to these neglected categories or genres.

The idea behind DIY MFA is to help writers build this equation into their lives without depending on a school structure. All four essential components of the traditional MFA are things that writers can cobble together on their own or collaborating with other writers. You don't need to go to graduate school to get these benefits. In other words, DIY MFA shows writers how to:

(1) Approach literature like a writer to get the most out of reading,
(2) Explore both craft and creativity through writing,
(3) Give and take critique in a workshop setting,
(4) Build a community of like-minded writers.

How to join:

Tomorrow, we have an extra-special DIY MFA event happening: I'm offering a FREE Webinar! This webinar is going to be filled with tips to help you boost your writing and get out of a creative slump.

7 Ways to Boost Your Writing
Wednesday, Nov. 16
1:00-2:00 pm ET
To Register and for more information, visit the webinar page.

Can't make the webinar? No worries. Another easy way to dive into DIY MFA is to follow the blog: Each week, I focus on one topic in DIY MFA, with longer posts on Mondays and Wednesdays and a short prompt on Fridays.

Gabriela Pereira
Don't have time to read blogs during the week? No problem! The DIY MFA weekly newsletter Writer Fuel sends a round-up of the week's posts (as well as other goodies) straight to your inbox every Friday afternoon. Just in time for your weekend writing sprints. You can join the mailing list, and when you do you'll not only get Writer Fuel each week, you'll also get a free workbook download--Jumper Cables--just for signing up.

As for me, I’m Gabriela Pereira, and I’ve spent a lifetime telling stories, writing them down and helping other writers put the pen to paper and express their ideas. Having grown up bilingual, I know how important it is for writers to express themselves in their unique voice and to build a writing life that is all their own. I’ve been many things in my life: a writer, a teacher, even a toy designer. Now with DIYMFA I am the instigator, the one who lights the first match, but it’s up to you to fan the flame. I hope you will join me on this journey.

Connect with me at DIY MFA:

Twitter: @DIYMFA

To Those about to write, I salute you. To everyone else, I suggest you stay out of our way.


  1. Thanks for an awesome post, Grabriela. I'll definitely visit your site, although I may not make the webinar because I'm trying to finish my Nano novel before Thanksgiving. I'll need every spare minute to do it.

    DIY is the the way I've been learning the craft of writing for children for the last 18 years. Each year I select a series of writing books to study, invest time in my two critique groups, read a tons of kid lit, and write. It may be do-it-yourself, but it has helped me tremendously. I'm so thankful for all the resources available to writers for children (and all the writers in the community who share their wisdom and advice).

    (And I so identify with the writing-for-children-ignorance that is rampant out there. I cringe and try to laugh it off. Yikes!)

  2. Interesting. If I have the time, I'll think about following the blog.

  3. Beth -- So glad this post was useful! Sounds like you're well on your way to building an awesome, personalized DIY MFA plan. Go you!

    I also wanted to second what you said about how great the children's writing community is. There's something about children's book writers that makes them particularly passionate about the literature (think #YAsaves) but also very supportive of one another. I have seen so much kindness and generosity in this writing community that you just don't find anywhere else. It makes me feel really lucky to be part of the children's writing world.

  4. Gabriela, that is so true! They are incredibly encouraging. 100%!

  5. This is just the thing I've been looking for. The closest MFA program to my home is 3 hours away, so it's not feasible, though I'd love to do it. I'll definitely check out your site.


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