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Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build Your Community
By Gabriela Pereira
Writer's Digest Books, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-5996-3934-5

For more info, visit: DIY MFA Book

Reviewed by Zev Harris - June 6, 2016

For some reason, many writers that I've spoken with feel that to be a truly professional writer they need to have an MFA (Master of Fine Arts degree) in writing. I wonder why this is, especially when you consider the plethora of best-selling authors who don't have an MFA (several haven't even been to college). Writers that don't have an MFA appended to their names include Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Stephen Coonts, Arthur C. Clarke, Ernest Hemingway, William Shakespeare, Agatha Christie, Leo Tolstoy, and many more too numerous to mention. Granted there are numerous authors with an MFA that have made a name for themselves, but, is the degree really necessary? The short answer is, of course, no. You don't even need a high-school diploma to become a best-selling author. It simply takes skill, determination, and a degree of luck to get your manuscript in front of just the right person at the right time to launch your career. However, for many writers, the experience of attending an MFA program and the connections that they make while at school have helped to promote their careers. But what if you want the experiences you can gain from attending an MFA program but don't have the time to spend two or three years attending graduate school - or maybe you simply cannot come up with the ten's of thousands of dollars that the program might cost?

Never fear, Gabriela Pereira has come to the rescue for everyone, myself included, who'd like to try their hand of 'doing' an MFA program but cannot (for whatever reason) attend a formal MFA program. Pereira is a writer, teacher, and MFA program graduate. Through her website, she has been offering guidance to writers around on the world on how they can design, and attend their own, unique, do-it-yourself MFA program. She even offers a free, downloadable, DIY MFA Starter Kit. You can find a download link for the starter kit on the main page of the site. In addition to the website, Pereira has also written a book, called simply DIY MFA and it is set to be released by Writer's Digest Books in the summer of 2016. The book's subtitle, Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build Your Community provides a very clear outline of what you will find in the book!

I've had an advanced peek at this book and I have to say it is fantastic! While Pereira's website is an excellent resource, the book is even better. Not only is all the information presented in an orderly and easy to follow format, but she also includes a lot of information not contained on the website. In short, the book explains what a do-it-yourself MFA program is and how to develop the right mind-set to go it alone. She also covers such things as how to motivate yourself and build a support system, as well as dealing with such 'mundane' topics a character development (your characters, not your own), writing dialog, interweaving several plot threads, and many more essential writing skills. She also shows you how to read like a writer and how to incorporate what you learn from your 'readings' into your writing skill set. She also teaches you how to set up your own workshops to have your work critiqued - which is a major component of a traditional MFA program. Most important, for those of us who yearn to have a book published - she offers advice on how to get your works in front of readers, how to submit it for publication, and how to promote your book. Throughout, Pereira's offers advice for both writers of fiction and nonfiction, as well as writers of both long and short pieces.

The end result of following the advice and information presented in this book is that you will be able, with a great deal of work (lets face it, writing is work and if you are not willing to put a lot of effort into your craft you are most likely doomed to failure), master the craft of writing and gain an education similar to that of a traditional MFA graduate. Do not, however, expect this book to teach you everything you need to know to become a published author to develop your own MFA program. Rather, I found the DIY MFA book to be more of a road map. You start out with a beginning and you have an end in sight, but how you get there is not only part of the adventure but also the learning experience, and along the way Pereira is there to offer advice and guidance to help make sure that you take the most effective path to reach your own unique goals, and that you use the tools and methodologies that best suits your temperament and needs.

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