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DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build Your Community

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Get the Knowledge Without the College! You are a writer. You dream of sharing your words with the world, and you're willing to put in the hard work to achieve success. You may have even considered earning your MFA, but for whatever reason--tuition costs, the time commitment, or other responsibilities--you've never been able to do it. Or maybe you've been looking for a self-guided approach so you don't have to go back to school. This book is for you."DIY MFA" is the do-it-yourself alternative to a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. By combining the three main components of a traditional MFA--writing, reading, and community--it teaches you how to craft compelling stories, engage your readers, and publish your work. Inside you'll learn how to: Set customized goals for writing and learning.Generate ideas on demand.Outline your book from beginning to end.Breathe life into your characters.Master point of view, voice, dialogue, and more.Read with a "writer's eye" to emulate the techniques of others.Network like a pro, get the most out of writing workshops, and submit your work successfully.Writing belongs to everyone--not only those who earn a degree. With "DIY MFA," you can take charge of your writing, produce high-quality work, get published, and build a writing career.

294 pages, Paperback

First published July 8, 2016

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Gabriela Pereira

1 book109 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 129 reviews
Profile Image for Karen.
Author 1 book23 followers
November 11, 2016
I've always wanted a Master of Fine Arts in creative fiction writing ever since I knew it existed. When it was time for me to apply to colleges, I picked those that had post-graduate creative writing programs. I wanted to be an English major and a master at the craft of writing fiction.

Well... I became an English major with a creative writing emphasis in fiction and a minor in Japanese, and I got accepted to two MFA programs, but...

I couldn't afford either of them. I'd graduated college debt-free, and I didn't want to go into debt for something that I could a) get for free at plenty of other schools, and b) was not necessary to write well. Many writers – especially those that write primarily in the genres that I like – don’t have MFAs and write just fine.

But I still wanted to improve my writing in any way that I could. So, I started looking for alternatives, and DIY MFA by Gabriela Perreira, "the do-it-yourself alternative to a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing," popped up.

And I read it. And I liked it. But I had some problems with it.

Perreira knows her stuff. She tells you how to read story passages so that you get the full effect of how story and language work together to make an engaging experience. Her breakdown of "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gillman is excellent and makes me reminisce about the days I was in both my English and writing classes. She gives you easy-to-remember acronyms not just for the technical aspects of writing, but the more personal aspects of how to transform yourself into a writing machine by analyzing what is working for you and what isn't. She arms you with the techniques to build a reading list of the kind of work you want to emulate. And lastly, she supplies you with many tips on how to market your work and get yourself out there at conferences, online, and everywhere in between.

So, in a way, DIY MFA is not just a do-it-yourself on how to write better. It's a DIY on how to transform your writing lifestyle. That is something that most writing self-help books don't get into, which makes DIY MFA particularly unique, valuable, and helpful to so many writers who want to step up their game.

But the DIY MFA mindset, as Perreira herself says, is "not entirely for everyone," and I most certainly agree. She favors using archetypes heavily when writing stories, and I don't. I use a contact form on my blog, despite Perreira saying that I shouldn't. I don't intend to apply everything in DIY MFA to heart. And that's okay. Perreira acknowledges that by encouraging her readers to do what they feel is best for them:

Don’t blindly follow someone else’s best practice. You need to test different approaches and only adopt the ones that give you the results you want. Remember, another writer’s best practice might be your personal nightmare. The only best practice is the one that works for you.


This passage essentially becomes a disclaimer for DIY MFA. Lord knows how many writers I have met in my time at college who have far more different writing strategies and practices than I do. What might work for them might not work for me, and that's okay. I accept that DIY MFA might not work for me, too.

But what really bothers me about DIY MFA is that even though there is this disclaimer, I felt like it still acted, at times, that there were personal preferences of the author that were treated as absolutes or just downright moments of insensitivity.

For example, DIY MFA advises that you get rid of the instances of words like "Um" and "Well" in your dialogue because they "slow" down your dialogue. Erm... really? I mean, yes. Human beings say "Um" a lot while they're talking. Humans beings don't have the luxury of being edited like a character on a page. But what if you have a character that says "Well" at the beginning of most of their lies, or has another distinguishing tick of dialogue about them? I don't believe"Um" and "Well" are words that the writer should be afraid of. I'm certainly not afraid of them. They even help me write more comedic scenes between my characters, because "Um" can be used as a pause to keep them from saying something that gets them in trouble.

So, yeah. Not quite an absolute for me, even though it's listed under a list of "Nine Dont's."

My other example deals with how DIY MFA talks about a writer's mindset. It claims that "[t]he only reason writers don’t write is because they just don’t want it badly enough." (Emphasis not mine.) Now, it goes on to explain that if your friend had tickets to a concert that you were dying to see, you'd drop everything and go to that concert, no matter your physical health, and that you would do the same thing for your writing, i.e. you'd write if you wanted it badly enough.

I get the point being made there, but really? Is that truly "[t]he only reason writers don't write"? I don't think so. There are many writers out there who are probably bed-ridden, dealing with mental illness, and are not writing because they're simply trying to get better. There are many writers out there who want to write, but are caught in the throes of a plot tangle. I understand that this particular sentence is driven at the "lazier" writers who don't want to put in the effort to write, and that there's a comedic edge to this, but I think that could have been worded better.

And perhaps other things could have been worded better, but shoulda/woulda/coulda. My main point is that if I wanted to read about how Gabriela Perreira herself made her own DIY MFA program for herself and decided to share it with the world, I would have wanted the part that she made the program for herself emphasized. I would have been fine diving straight in, too, and just being presented with the information.

But overall, good stuff. Recommended it for the writer wanting to whip themselves into shape, but also advise that it should be taken with a grain of salt.
Profile Image for Andrea.
Author 10 books22 followers
Read
January 28, 2020
Coming soon: thoughts on this book. One line summary? It's probably not a book for any of my writing friends seeing this review.

Update: So. Let's see. The book has three sections, and the bulk of it is devoted to "Write with Focus."

A general problem: This book can be prescriptive and pretends not to be.

Another is that it's more entry-level than I was hoping. I thought of an MFA as an advanced program, not one in which you are learning about what a character arc is or how plot works or that you should sit down and write actual words. What made me sigh deeply were seeing pages and pages devoted to Freytag's pyramid and your traditional hacky unimaginative framing of what a story is. Instead of this, please read Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew by Ursula Le Guin.

I started skimming "Write with Focus" pretty quickly to get to the "Read with Purpose" section, but I was better off having read Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them.

The final part was the part I was most curious about and maybe most disappointed by, personally! I would love to get the networky feel of an MFA, the cohort without the degree, the hot tips about finding a mentorship outside of a structured program!

Hey, did you know there are writing conferences? And local writing groups and online message boards? Have you thought about getting a business card? Does your local bookshop have events?

All of this is, I'm very sure, helpful to many people. But. Uh. Not me. Bummer.
Profile Image for Laura Highcove.
41 reviews1 follower
August 21, 2016
You've probably heard the idiom: "Give a man a fish and you'll feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you'll feed him for a lifetime." This book embodies that quote in that the first nine pages of this book will change the way you think, not only about writing, but every facet of your life.

The DIYMFA Mindset teaches you how to be a learner.

The book is focused on three main areas:

In Writing with Focus, unlike normal "learn to write" books, Gabriela gives multiple options on how to work your way through your writing process and develop your own method. It starts with the basics of generating ideas, creating characters, and working through story and plot as well as a method of revision that makes the whole task seem far less daunting and has saved me from insanity on more than one occasion.

In the Reading with Purpose section, you learn how to "read like a writer". That is, you learn how to read books such that you notice how the author develops certain aspects so you can recreate it in your own writing. Once you know what to look for, every book you pick up can help you improve your writing.

And finally, the often overlooked importance of Building your Community. This includes not only your support system of other writers, but how to develop your presence on-line in order to start building your reader base. Even though writing seems like such a solitary existence, eventually you're going to need to interact with other people in order to publish and sell your writing, and this section helps give that to you in bite-sized chunks so it is far less intimidating. There is also a thriving social media community surrounding DIYMFA, that can help you get connected with other writers, already included.

My own DIYMFA started two years ago, and I have never regretted a moment of it. It has helped me improve my writing as well as preparing me for all the steps that come next. I highly recommend you pick up this book.
84 reviews
June 4, 2016
As a member of the DIY MFA Street Team and the DIY MFA 101 Course, I admit that I love everything DIY MFA! But writer-to-writer, this book is a true gem that all serious writers need to have on their shelf.

It's easy to say that you want to write a book. The truth is that writing is a complex, often daunting task, that is not a project for the faint of heart. With books and blogs so abundantly available, there is so much writing advice out there to sift through. For a newbie (and even for seasoned writers), the writing journey can be overwhelming. Gabriela Pereira lays out a unique road map to get you from the zero moment when you have that great idea all the way to the point of holding a published copy in your hands. Pereira has managed to distill the experience of an MFA within the cover of a single book and puts the power of self-education in the hands of writers. It doesn't matter what kind of writing you do or the amount of skill you have to start with, Pereira's tips are customizable, so that, ultimately, you get a course tailored to you. What a gift!

This book is NOT just another overview of the publishing industry or or another book that scratches the surface about writing. This book gives you guidance to develop your skills as a reader, a writer, and a member of the larger community of writers and readers. Pereira includes practical exercises, honest advice, and helpful tips that are designed to push you out of your comfort zone.

Definitely a top read for writers who are serious about not only honing their craft, but building a career. This is a reference you will return to again and again!
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 2 books51 followers
August 23, 2016
The short of it: I loved the DIY MFA Book. It's a comprehensive and empowering adaptation of Gabriela's core concepts for DIY MFA (writing, reading, community building) that doesn't denounce the traditional MFA program, but rather presents an alternative to writers for financial, time management, or other reasons. There's definitely something for all writers, both beginners and more experienced; and the topics range from the practical (character development, developing a targeted reading plan, networking, etc.) to the internal (rejection, motivation, inspiration).

I'd go into more detail, but then I'd be copying my entire review from my blog, which is quite long. ;) So, click here to read my full-length review of the DIY MFA Book.
Profile Image for Joni Fisher.
Author 6 books185 followers
August 2, 2022
The Do It Yourself Master of Fine Arts in writing book delivers tactics, techniques, and strategies for studying and developing a writing career. The book is divided into sections: orientation, write with focus, read with purpose, and build your community.

This is a practical guide for fiction and non-fiction authors who are serious about getting their best work published.
Profile Image for Leanne.
45 reviews2 followers
June 30, 2016
I have been a big fan of DIY MFA since I first heard Gabriela Pereira speak at the Writer's Digest conference in August 2014. As an educator, I responded to her strong ability to command her classroom's attention; deliver a clear and detailed lesson, chock-full of advice and information; and show confidence in her audience's ability to absorb and understand the material. Since that conference, I have become a columnist for the DIY MFA website and a proud member of Gabriela's team. I'm also a member of the Street Team for the book, and received an ARC to review.

As previous reviewers have mentioned, this book is divided into the three main pillars of DIY MFA: Writing, Reading and Community. All three sections could easily stand alone as their own manuals for writing craft, purposeful reading, and building a writing tribe. The fact that they exist under one cover makes this book a must-have for any writer, no matter where she is on her writing journey.

What I've always loved best about DIY MFA, though, is Gabriela's strong voice. Reading her writing, from this book to the website and her "Word Nerd" email list, is like talking to a friend who's not afraid to tell you what she thinks, but also respects your individuality. She knows what works for herself, but also goes out of her way to find methods that work for others, and suggests them all as answers to your writing questions. This book reveals that Gabriela's own path to writing success comes from much trial-and-error, failures that turned into learning opportunities, and "iterations" (a favorite word of hers) to improve her habits. The authenticity of that path gives Gabriela credibility as both a writer and an educator. I admire her because she does what I personally try (and sometimes fail) to do: pursue continuous growth and learning about myself and my chosen career path. If Gabriela were to write this book again in ten years, I bet it could be twice as long, given that she continues to learn and share what she's learned about the world of writing.

If you only read one book about writing this year, make it this one!
Profile Image for Anna (lion_reads).
402 reviews69 followers
February 9, 2019
If you've ever listened to Gabriela's podcast, this book has the same flavour (if a little bit more prescriptive). The goal is to help new writers develop a career path that is similar to what they would get in an MFA program.

Each section is colourfully designed and contains small and big tips on how to cultivate your strategy as a writer. The book guides you through thoughtful reading, stress-free writing and shaping your writer's community. Along the way, Gabriela provides a handful of tips and exercises to drive home each concept.

Rather helpfully, there is also a series of automated e-mails you can sign up to which arrive every week to summarize an important concept within the book. They are a nice nudge to remember to complete a certain exercise you read about. Gabriela also provided some resources you can download to help interact with the content in the book (ex. character charts, book lists, pov practice). I liked this because the book didn't let you forget what you learned. However, I do wish there were more of them and that they contained separate exercises to reinforce and flesh out the ideas introduced in the book—ones that provided a practical approach to DIY MFA. If the author wants this to feel like an educational program that would be the way.

I can't say that I agree 100% with all the strategies and assumptions in this book. Some chapters desperately need more details and nuance. But this is a good place to start. For a writer just starting to wrap her head around her craft, this is a non-fussy, solid foundation. I've read various writing books throughout the years, but even I found it helpful to remind myself and crystalize certain topics taught in creative writing. If nothing else, you will find yourself responding to the advice in this book and forming your own ideas about the craft. Also helpful is that Gabriela knows when to step back. You don't have to worry that you won't succeed unless you follow her rules. She takes more of a "use what works for you" approach.
Profile Image for Abigail K. Perry.
46 reviews7 followers
June 10, 2016
An absolute must for any writer’s bookshelf! Pereira speaks with profound insight for any writer on their path to publishing – teaching him or her the writing tips, tricks, and need-to-knows about: Writing with a Focus, Reading with a Purpose, and Building Your Community.

Unlike the multitude of how-to-writing books that explain what you need to know in a checklist manner, Pereira takes your hand, providing examples and personalizing her tidbits in a way that allows you to apply all her advice to your novel. The amiable, enthusiastic voice driving her narrative feels more like a conversation than any other writing book I’ve ever read. I’m not joking! There were times when I stopped just to think, “This is exactly how I feel all the time. You know ME, Pereira!” And if that’s not reason enough to buy this book (which you should do NOW, my fellow writer, because it’s awesome), you’ll love Pereira’s valuable writing exercises that hone your writing weaknesses and strengths – without taking time away from actually writing your book.

I fell in love with Pereira’s presentations at a Writer’s Digest conference and found consultation about my MFA debate from her views on the diyMFA website (I opted NOT to get an MFA and felt confident in my decision after reading Pereira’s thoughts on the debate). Now, with this book and as one of the lucky first readers on the diyMFA Street Team, I can tackle my writing, reading, and building my writing community with a vision and a purpose nonexistent (and I didn’t know!) before this book reached my hands. diyMFA is a book for writers of all stages, and a friend you’ll miss without knowing it. Don’t miss out on the writing book of the year! Spend the bucks with confidence, and soak it in page by page. You’re not alone!
Profile Image for Robin Lovett.
Author 17 books273 followers
June 10, 2016
Reading this book is like having your very own writing coach cheering you on from the page. I'll be keeping the DIY MFA book on my shelf as a reference for years to come. It's an excellent manifesto for being our own writers and helping us find ourselves in the terrifying career we love so much. From page one it felt like entering into the covers of a writing world where it was safe to have all my insecurities and flaws. It includes concrete processes for harnessing those insecurities and techniques in a way that gives our writing the respect it deserves. DIY MFA is an MFA for real life writing outside the academic bubble. It's all about building the discipline to write by having the faith in yourself to know what's best for you and your writing career. There were so many things on the page that I'd found true over my own study of writing but had never seen written in a book before. It's given me so much more confidence in my skills.

It's a book on how to live the life of a writer, not short term, but long term. It's all about tools for stamina and will be a great reference in times of struggle, burnout, and exhaustion. It's filled in holes in my writing knowledge I didn't know I had. I've always been a follower of DIY MFA but now I'm a devoted disciple.
29 reviews1 follower
May 24, 2016
This is one of the best books for writers I have read. Gabriela describes the life cycle of the writer in three parts: writing, reading, and community. Starting at the beginning, she gives tips and tricks for starting the writing process, busts the myths we often believe about writing and creativity, and deftly integrates examples from popular literature. Next, she takes us into reading like a writer with clever acronyms and fun exercises. Finally, she closes the book with a look at the wide world of the writing community from publishing conferences and query letters to Twitter and blogging, including my favorite section, titled The Four Step Networking Formula for Introverts.

The practical advice of this book coupled with the exercises and examples makes this an invaluable book for writers in the modern day.
Profile Image for Cybersekkin.
163 reviews2 followers
June 1, 2016
I was lucky enough to get access to a review copy. DIYMFA is a great book full of useful advice. The early part of the book I found myself thinking, this advice fits into many areas of life. As the writing specific advice started I found myself even picking up some inspiration along the way. I have read several books on writing, this one distils much of the best advice I have seen in them, a fair bit of advice hinted at in podcasts, and even some new tidbits. This title has earned a spot on my "best of" shelf.
Profile Image for Amanda.
78 reviews2 followers
October 13, 2016
I worked through this writing book, taking notes as I went. Found some advice and practices to be great, while others were pretty obvious things if you've even just written an essay in school. A bit too dumbed down but for the most part helpful and interesting to see how she approaches writing. My approach so far, that I've learned, is a bit different but I have incorporated some of her advice and techniques.
Profile Image for J.W. Donley.
Author 4 books48 followers
August 9, 2022
This is the best book I've yet read on writing. It addresses not only the process of writing, but also provides structure to how to approach reading as a writer and how to build/maintain a community of both readers and other writers. I can see myself returning to this book for guidance for years to come.
Profile Image for Melanie.
32 reviews5 followers
June 22, 2017
Gabriela Pereira was compelled to create DIYMFA, the website, community, course, podcast, and now book, after her disappointing experience with her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program.

Like Gabriela, I went the route of the Master’s degree, believing that I needed the validation. It was the lie I believed, and it almost ended my writing career before it began.

DIYMFA is what the MFA program should be (or should aspire to be) but never was.

Most MFA programs centre on critique—without teaching the students what it takes to offer and receive constructive feedback—and coaching/mentorship by someone who may or may not even understand their own creative process, let alone be able to articulate it, or guide their mentee to their process and best mode of creative expression without imposing some ideal of “how things should be done.”

Admittedly, MFA programs have matured and improved, but rather than focus what should be a review of an amazing guide to the writing life on an indictment of the graduate institution, I’m going to, in grand rhetorical style, return to the matter at hand (see? Academia has ruined me—ruined!).

Gabriela divides her guide into three sections: write with focus; read with purpose; and build your community.

In the first, she offers a brief, but engaging, examination of all the essential points of craft that writers must master. There is no one way to reach the destination, but a multitude of paths from which writers can choose based on their personal goals and aptitudes. Self-knowledge and self-confidence are the foundations upon which craft is built.

While the reading with purpose section is shorter than the other two, it is no less important. Gabriela emphasizes a balanced approach throughout DIYMFA. All three aspects, writing, reading, and community, are essential to creative development.

Learning to read and analyze the text, not like an academic, but like a writer, is what this second section is all about. We have to learn about craft first and begin to apply it before we can learn to recognize it in the writing of others and extract lessons from that purposeful reading that we can take back to the page.

Finally, in this brave new world of social media, how do we tackle the task of finding our audiences, reaching out to them, and building a community of writerly friends, readers, and fans?

In all aspects of DIYMFA, Gabriela has studied and learned from the best in the industry, and she unpacks these lessons in an accessible and engaging way.

One of the things I enjoyed most about DIYMFA is that Gabriela draws on her statistics background and mathematical bent to offer charts, matrices, and unique visualizations that will help readers and learners find a way into the material she presents.

And, as a self-confessed word nerd, she exercises her talent for acronyms and initialisms, creating fun mnemonics to encapsulate concepts and principles for her writerly audience.

Having sung the praises of DIYMFA as an alternative to a traditional MFA program, I must point out that Gabriela never disparages academia, in fact, traditional programs are pointed out as viable options for the aspiring writer.

What if that writer has economic, domestic, or temporal limitations, though? It is for those writers-in-progress that DIYMFA has been crafted.

DIYMFA earns my highest recommendation.
Profile Image for A.R..
Author 7 books3 followers
June 7, 2016
There must be something unique about a person who holds a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in writing who develops a writing program called the Do-It-Yourself MFA. Gabriela Pereira identifies herself not only as a writer and teacher, but as a word nerd whose goal is not to take over the world with prose (well, maybe a little) but to challenge the expectation that only those with a graduate degree and years of classroom-guided processes can be successful and published authors. After a number of years in development, Pereira has put her proven techniques into an easy-to-follow formula. Broken into 27 manageable chunks, she takes the reader from initial organization to publication preparation.

The aforementioned conception of the MFA is described by bestselling author Jacqueline Mitchard:

The importance of the MFA was just coming to the fore, and “the equivalent” in published works didn’t have quite the same impact in the academic world. I had long wanted to teach at the college level, to help others learn some of what I had learned (mostly on my own, it must be said), but then, quite suddenly, I also needed a regular, reliable job … At the time, I didn’t think there was another way … (p. 1)

Mitchard continues by reminding the reader that while many published writers get there through submission of a graduate school thesis, an equal number of others do not.

It is here that Pereira’s DIY MFA takes over.

The first three chapters, posted under the ‘Orientation’ heading, provide the readers with a concise overview of what to expect. To be clear, the focus of the text is not on writing and technique only: it is designed to help writers establish techniques that intersect with other areas of their lives as well: it is vital to remember that a writer is also a reader and a learner. Having organization in the other aspects of life can help the writer add structure to the process.

Fourteen chapters are devoted to focused writing. Readers may be surprised to note that Pereira begins with exercises related to failure in a section she titles ‘Fail Better’, where FAIL is Face Your Fears, Assemble Your Allies, Initiate and Iterate, and Let It Go. As she states in the introduction to the chapter on failure, there is a focus in society on the notion of instant success, which often undermines the writing experience. For every successful novel, there are many rejected iterations; Pereira reminds her readers that they are not failures but that something about the process failed:

Remember that mistakes and failure are part of the iterative process, and while they are inevitable, you cannot take setbacks personally. When something goes wrong, don’t say, “I failed.” Say, “This failed,” and then try something else …

We writers are perfectionists, and we often make our failures worse by agonizing over them. We pick apart rejection letters looking for hidden clues … Just like compounding failure with guilt, when we agonize over our mistakes, we make an already-painful experience worse … (pp. 39-40)

Pereira provides ‘cheat sheets’ and examples to help writers gain understanding related to some of the more difficult aspects of writing, such as point of view (Chapter 14) and descriptions (pp. 144-145).

The next three chapters provide a foundation for developing good writing habits through reading. Pereira indicates that most MFA programs include a reading component. One thing that non-academic writing programs often suggest is that writers should read in their chosen genre; while this is not a bad idea, the section in DIY MFA related to reading makes it clear that writers must also have a thorough understanding of classic works: “… in order to create fresh, new work, you must understand and appreciate what has been written before” (p. 171). Further, there are practical examples of books that should be on every writer’s shelf throughout the text. Guided exercises engage the reader and are designed for practical application (see for example ‘Read Like a Writer’, beginning on p. 185).

Pereira tackles the fear factor in writing as well. Chapter 21 begins the final seven-section portion of the text in which she encourages writers to join the community of writers. Engaging with other writers, having critique groups, and attending writing workshops are some of the suggestions offered. There is a detailed section on creating an identity as a writer as well as identifying and establishing a proper audience. She makes the distinction between the ideal reader and the actual reader:

… while visualizing your ideal reader can be inspiring, it will not help you sell or promote your book. After all, you can’t get usable data and information from a reader who only exists in your head. (p 254)

The book includes information about how to best use writing retreats and conferences to best advantage as well as how to promote your book. To make the educational journey complete, the text closes with encouragement via a chapter titled ‘Commencement’.

DIY MFA is written in accessible language, making it appropriate for adult readers of all ages. Detailed examples and quotes come from various genres, allowing the text to be of interest to writers in all genres. A thorough index at the back provides an easy way to return to specific quotes or exercises. It is a must-have for writers at all stages of their journey. More information available at http://diymfa.com/product/diy-mfa-book
Profile Image for Tom.
240 reviews
June 15, 2019
4/5

The beginning half section of this book was insightful. Gave me information that helped more than other writing craft books out there.

As for the last two sections: they weren’t too helpful. The reading second I knew about already. Along with building a writing community.

I stand at my 4 stars for this book because the first third is useful and I’ll definitely be using what I learned.
Profile Image for Sabrina.
300 reviews10 followers
December 17, 2019
I’ve been reading Gabriela’s blog since around 2012 and this book is full of the inspirational, yet practical advice she gives on her website. If you want to write books but aren’t quite there, this is a great resource.
Profile Image for Dianna Gunn.
Author 4 books47 followers
June 21, 2016
The great thing about DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build your Community is how different it is from other writing books. It does contain some writing exercises(and some really cool reading exercises) but really it's all about creating your own writing methodology. Rather than simply tell you her process and schedule, Gabriela walks you through how to create your own writing process and schedule. She reminds you again and again that your personalized MFA program should be just that--extremely personalized.

As a long time fan of the DIY MFA blog and an attendee at last year's online DIY MFA conference I was already familiar with most of the DIY MFA concepts, but the book went into much greater detail and helped define the concepts more concretely in my brain. One thing I really love is the concept of iteration--creating a writing routine and tweaking it slightly every few weeks until you find something ideal--and failing better. Gabriela's discussed it on the blog plenty, but in the book she goes into great detail and discusses how you can do it for different aspects of your writing life. She also talks about how iteration(like learning) should be a lifelong process.

One thing that was totally new to me was the term "Revolutionary Reading". Every book you will ever read about writing at some point reminds you that it's important to read widely, read often and read actively. Very few writing books actually go into detail about what that means but DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build your Community has a large section(I think about 25% of the book, even) about reading. Revolutionary reading is a cooler way of describing what many writers call "active reading" or "reading like a writer": actively examining not only what a writer is saying and why, but how they are saying it. This is when you pay attention to specific techniques and turns of phrase and how they influence story development. Revolutionary reading is one of the most important things a writer can learn how to do and I can't think of a book that teaches this skill better than DIY MFA.

DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build your Community also has extremely detailed and useful information on critique groups and beta readers--what they are, how to find them and how to treat them--along with a large section on the business side of writing. Like the other sections of the book, this focuses primarily on giving you the long term strategies to figure it out for yourself rather than spoon feeding you information(much of which might not be useful by the time you're done your book anyway). Oh, and there are lots of recommendations for further reading, along with a soon-to-be-released online resource guide.

I really wish I could have bought DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build your Community way back when I made my first attempts at creating a regular writing routine, or even a few years ago when my process was a lot less finessed than it is now. Still, this book deepened my understanding of many concepts I'm familiar with, introduced a few new ones and got me thinking about my own writing in a new way. I've been building my own DIY MFA for years already so I didn't create a massive educational plan for myself or anything like that, but I have changed how I'm approaching the book I'm currently writing and I feel a lot better about it now. I liked this book so much I might even buy a paper copy so I can cover it in sticky notes.
Profile Image for Melanie.
32 reviews5 followers
June 10, 2016
What it should have been but never was
I was given an advanced reader copy (ARC) in return for an honest review.
Gabriela Pereira was compelled to create DIYMFA, the website, community, course, podcast, and now book, after her disappointing experience with her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program.
Like Gabriela, I went the route of the Master’s degree, believing that I needed the validation. It was the lie I believed, and it almost ended my writing career before it began.
DIYMFA is what the MFA program should be (or should aspire to be) but never was.
Most MFA programs centre on critique—without teaching the students what it takes to offer and receive constructive feedback—and coaching/mentorship by someone who may or may not even understand their own creative process, let alone be able to articulate it, or guide their mentee to their process and best mode of creative expression without imposing some ideal of “how things should be done.”
Admittedly, MFA programs have matured and improved, but rather than focus what should be a review of an amazing guide to the writing life on an indictment of the graduate institution, I’m going to, in grand rhetorical style, return to the matter at hand (see? Academia has ruined me—ruined!).
Gabriela divides her guide into three sections: write with focus; read with purpose; and build your community.
In the first, she offers a brief, but engaging, examination of all the essential points of craft that writers must master. There is no one way to reach the destination, but a multitude of paths from which writers can choose based on their personal goals and aptitudes. Self-knowledge and self-confidence are the foundations upon which craft is built.
While the reading with purpose section is shorter than the other two, it is no less important. Gabriela emphasizes a balanced approach throughout DIYMFA. All three aspects, writing, reading, and community, are essential to creative development.
Learning to read and analyze the text, not like an academic, but like a writer, is what this second section is all about. We have to learn about craft first and begin to apply it before we can learn to recognize it in the writing of others and extract lessons from that purposeful reading that we can take back to the page.
Finally, in this brave new world of social media, how do we tackle the task of finding our audiences, reaching out to them, and building a community of writerly friends, readers, and fans?
In all aspects of DIYMFA, Gabriela has studied and learned from the best in the industry, and she unpacks these lessons in an accessible and engaging way.
One of the things I enjoyed most about DIYMFA is that Gabriela draws on her statistics background and mathematical bent to offer charts, matrices, and unique visualizations that will help readers and learners find a way into the material she presents.
And, as a self-confessed word nerd, she exercises her talent for acronyms and initialisms, creating fun mnemonics to encapsulate concepts and principles for her writerly audience.
Having sung the praises of DIYMFA as an alternative to a traditional MFA program, I must point out that Gabriela never disparages academia, in fact, traditional programs are pointed out as viable options for the aspiring writer.
What if that writer has economic, domestic, or temporal limitations, though? It is for those writers-in-progress that DIYMFA has been crafted.
DIYMFA earns my highest recommendation.
Profile Image for Diane DeMasi.
63 reviews
December 2, 2017
Full disclosure: I received a digital arc of this book for an honest review. That being said, when my oldest asked me what I wanted for Mother's Day the only option I gave him was "DIY MFA the physical book." Being the good son he is, he pre-ordered the book for me. Ship Amazon, ship (I'm sure this comment will be obsolete in a few days time, but yeah, that's my mantra the next few days).

This is the first time I've ever received a free digital copy of a book and felt the need to buy/have a physical copy of the book as well. Granted I'm biased toward actual books. But, this is one of those books you keep front and center on your desk. This is one of those books you never loan a friend or family member because you will hunt them down if they don't return it...and you will hunt them, you know where they live, but you don't want to go to jail, so just don't loan the book. Ever.

The immense resource that this book is, is so vast, it may be best to have a physical and a digital copy so you always have it at your finger tips. It's not just for writing, truly it helps with everything in life.

The best part of this book is that you read a section, you get an "aha!" and dive into your work-in-progress. Sometimes you don't think a section will pertain to you (kind of what I thought of the first part - I already have my idea, I don't need help), but as you work through your own project and skim a chapter that you thought you didn't need the first time, you find "Holy snot!" it now makes sense (like when life goes all topsy-turvy and you realize that section on Honoring Your Reality is now pertinent) and it becomes your favorite chapter, too.

When someone asks, "what's your favorite part?" You're kind of like Steve Martin in the Jerk when he's recounting the days of Bernadette Peters absence, but in chapter form.
"Well at first, I thought I needed this chapter and so that was my favorite, but then I got to this section in my own work and this other chapter became my favorite, but then that seemed like a small part compared to this other chapter...."

It's one of those books.

DIY MFA takes you step by step through cultivating an idea, a work ethic, and a finished piece. You keep coming back to it; finish one project with the book by your side and begin another with the book still by your side.

For everyone who thinks an MFA is something they may need, but can't afford the program or the time commitment, Gabriela offers a solution that is portable and will always be with you. Plus, you get a bonus, it helps you get your life a bit more organized. Things become clearer and less stressful.


Profile Image for C.J. Maughan.
Author 1 book24 followers
March 21, 2019
The author makes it clear that you should never give a negative review---that it's better to not say anything at all if you've nothing positive to say---which I don't agree with so here it is and I'm sorry (not sorry!) to be breaking your rules Ms. Pereira.

But this book is mostly for the types of people who want to TALK about writing, who want to carry their laptop around, push some keys every so often, rewrite the same few pages multiple times, drink lattes and say that they're a writer. I was looking for something more serious and in-depth. I don't want to fork out the money for an MFA program so I was looking for resources, reading lists, in depth writing process discussions---something more akin to a self-directed method of study knowing that it wouldn't be complete, but that it would at least be a foundation to start from.

But this book is not that.

To be fair, the first section of this book was probably the most helpful to me. The author had a unique, interesting way of teaching the basics of storytelling. I didn't go to college for writing nor did I ever have a great English teacher throughout school so I really appreciated this breakdown. However, if you had either of those things then you probably won't find as much value in this section as I did.

The other sections were okay. That's really probably the best word for it. The content skimmed the surface, not really committing to anything in particular but trying to hit everything and nothing at the same time while filling lots of page space with charts, graphs, and little bits of information to make the page seem more visually interesting.

I felt like there were way too many acronyms and way too many plugs for the author's own website content to be helpful. The content was meant to be friendly and conversational, but it felt juvenile and it rubbed me the wrong way as it seemed like she was trying to be the "cool writer friend". The book was more of a breezy, casual, indifferent sort of read. I couldn't help but compare the tone to a teacher who is overworked, who likes her job well enough, is probably a great teacher but is too tired to really get into the nitty-gritty of teaching deep material.

Overall, I'm not upset that I read it as there are a few things I found valuable and worthwhile. I just sort of wish that I hadn't spent the money to buy the book and had instead borrowed it from the library.
Profile Image for Lara Thompson.
680 reviews24 followers
June 14, 2016
Please note that I was given an advance reader copy in exchange for an honest review. The additional caveat is that I'm a long time visitor to the website www.diymfa.com and hence already a convert to the notion put forward in the title and book.

Starting with planning, motivation, improving your craft, and working toward writer's groups, marketing and publication, this book tries to cover it all. This is ok and works well enough since it was never her goal to be a comprehensive instruction in all this writing but instead an arsenal to get you learning for yourself, looking for the answers in the greater world as you need them (necessarily since technology, communities, and industry keep changing!), and trusting yourself to work (hard!) to become the writer you know is in you.

DIY MFA, the book, is halfway between typical motivational and instructional books in terms of content and style: it equips you to direct and learn for yourself how to be and improve as a writer. Gabriela's personality certainly comes out on the page (exuberant and supportive, direct and tough when she needs to be) making the book much like a long conversation with a (wise) friend. My biggest complaint is that she's a little over-fond of acronyms! This list of the main ones in use actually give a nearly perfect overview of the books extensive coverage.

For finding _your_ process
VITAL variables, information, trip wire, analyze, learn

Self-explanatory acronyms,
HABITS honour your reality, add constraints, block time/batch tasks, iterate, 10% rule, set the mood
FAIL face your fears, assemble your allies, initiate and iterate, let it go
IDEA inspiration, development, evaluation, action

Concerning character development and bringing to life on the page, two more,
WORST want, obstacles, risk, stake, transform
TADA thoughts, action, dialogue, appearance

A perfect, if forced, acronym for a box of inspiration,
ORACLE "outrageous ridiculously awesome creative literary exercises"

And finally, for your writing 'home', the axes of writing friends/mentors/supporters,
CASA critique, accountability, support, advice/apprenticeship




8 reviews13 followers
May 31, 2016
I admit upfront that as a member of Gabriela Pereira’s “Street Team” I received an advanced review copy of her DIY MFA book. That fact had no influence on this review other than the ability to post it before the book is publicly available. In fact, I intend to buy a hard copy version as soon as possible.

Out of the many books about writing available, I believe this one would be an asset to any writer’s collection. Why? Because it’s not JUST about how to write; it also includes sections about community, reading in a way that helps your writing, and how to balance all three—as a traditional Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program would.

I had an fairly good idea what I would find in the writing section of the book because I attended Ms. Pereira’s plotting session at the 2015 Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City. I was sure it would be both clear and concise. It didn’t disappoint. The section included the chapters about character and world building, generating ideas, plotting, and outlining, among others. It also offered several alternatives to traditional outlining. Some of them, like Mind Maps (a way of organizing topics and subtopics graphically to more easily see connections), are mainly useful for organizing prescriptive non-fiction (how-to). Others, like story sketches and story maps, are helpful in all story development.

The parts I personally found most helpful, since I’d already read numerous books about writing techniques, were the sections about self-motivation, how and why to build social networks, and reading with purpose. I won’t use all of the techniques suggested, nor does the book recommend doing so. DIY MFA acknowledges that there is no one way of writing that works for everyone. Instead, it provides a variety of methodologies along with the caveat that a writer should find their own “best practice” by changing one thing—just one—about their writing process for a few weeks, track its effectiveness, and then either adopt it permanently, revise it, or abandon it. I liked a few of the book’s suggestions well enough that I’m currently trying one self-motivation technique and attempting to improve my social networking without destroying my writing productivity.

In summary, whether you are a new writer or an experienced one, you will probably find some part of the DIY MFA book that can help you.
3 reviews
June 5, 2016
The DIY MFA book is very thorough and covers just about everything that a writer may come up against, even things that one might not had thought about. Not only does Gabriela cover the basics of story structure and craft as well as facets of storytelling from character development and motivation, but she also includes how to form critique groups and 'working workshops.' It makes the experience of reading the book more enjoyable and a welcome manual during all steps of the writing process. I also appreciate her examples of close reading to stress her points. She walks the reader through her reading of a text and explains how she developed that conclusion. It allows for someone else to digest what she is saying and learn how to be a better reader for it.

The only small criticism I have is that sometimes the tone comes across a little harsh. It's mostly stated as a way to break through excuses and a way of tough love to get the reader recognizing that they are in control of their writing life. It is effective but it just didn't rub me the right way at times.

However, bottom line, the material is sound, delivered very well, and on point. I would recommend it to anyone!

Received an advance review copy.
287 reviews9 followers
June 7, 2016

I finished reading Gabriela Pereira’s DIYMFA (DO IT YOURSELF MASTER OF FINE ARTS) and immediately completed a daunting scene in my work in progress. Yes, this book is that good. You want Pereira on your side when you face the fearsome blank page, attempt to explain your work to non-writers, or dig deep to go that extra ten percent to develop your craft. In clear, well-organized chapters, she eviscerates cherished myths to reveal the harrowing and fantastically rewarding journey of a writer’s life. This exceptional book is the most useful book in my writer arsenal, covering all aspects of writing from the work itself through conferences, critique groups, publication, author websites, and being the CEO of your own writing career. No other book does it so well, so comprehensively and with such candor, wit and clear authority. While I did receive an Advance Reader Copy in exchange for my honest review, I am so impressed that I must invest in two copies: one to use for my own work and another to thrust into the hands of other writers with an earnest entreaty “Read this. You need it. You really do.”
Profile Image for Kamsin Kaneko.
34 reviews7 followers
July 5, 2016
Practical advice and inspiration for anyone who wants to be a writer. Gabriela admits she's a statistics geek and some of the more geek-y parts lost me. But there is such a mine of useful information it would be impossible to find all of it equally useful. If there's one criticism it is that she covers almost too much ground.

The book covers everything you need to know if the traditional mfa route is not in budget or it's just not practical in your life to take time out to study. The online world means authors have far more control over their destiny these days and platform building and networking are covered in this book. The big thing that's different to other build your online platform, write your book type stuff that's out there is that she is steeped in literary knowledge and gives invaluable advice about how to write characters, world building, editing and getting critique. I'm still working to put this puzzle together myself but I'm glad this book came into my world. I was lucky enough to be part of the street team and receive an advance copy. So glad I did.
Profile Image for Elisabeth Kauffman.
35 reviews30 followers
June 29, 2016
(reader's note: I received a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review)

This book captures the heart of the DIY MFA mission and delivers it in a brilliant package. The amount of solid writing advice and actionable information in this book is almost overwhelming! Gabriela crams all her most powerful creative advice between the covers here and delivers a solid, continually reference-able resource to help you up your writing game, no matter what your goals are.

I am a firm believer and stalwart follower of the DIY MFA philosophy. I love the empowerment and encouragement that the DIY MFA community offers. If you aren't familiar with DIY MFA yet, you NEED to buy this book. It truly is the most perfect and succinct introduction to the life-changing and writing-life-transformational experience you never knew you needed.
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