Book Review: DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build your Community


DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build your Community is a brand new(it’s actually only available on pre-order right now) writing book written by one of my all time favourite bloggers, Gabriela Pereira of DIY MFA. The book, blog and courses Gabriela has created all share one goal: to help writers who don’t have the time or money for a traditional MFA program create their own structured writing education, a home-made MFA program.

I’ve been following Gabriela since 2011 so I was obviously thrilled when she finally announced this book and even more excited when she sent out the call for reviewers and actually let me join the list.

The Details

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.

The Bottom Line

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.

Or, long story short, every writer who wants to learn more about the craft should buy DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build your Community.

What books about writing do you love? Let me know in the comments section below!