DIY MFA

:: What Feeds YOUR Creativity? ::

* This post is in response to a writing prompt from DIY MFA Book Club which I wrote about here.

The fourth writing prompt in the series is:

When I first sat down to ponder this writing prompt, I had a hard time coming up with something so I put off writing about it at all. Can procrastination count as fuel for creativity? Unlikely, I suppose.

After finally diving in and giving it some consideration, the few things that stood out to me were my odd interest in the lives of people who were/are associated with historical figures, my compulsive Instagram trolling, and – no surprise here – my love of vast, awe-inspiring landscapes. I’m a very visual person. Not that I am necessarily a visual learner but I find a lot of inspiration in images and seeing how other people live.

I also get fired up by witnessing other creatives living fully in their passion and weirdly, by images of their creative spaces, i.e. where they make their magic.

While I know that writing prompts, such as this one, are a common and popular tool for getting the juices flowing, I haven’t allowed myself enough exploration to see if it could be a good resource for me too. The closest I’ve come is half-finished sentences when I pause or take a break from writing that I have to complete when I return to working.

Okay, I’m procrastinating again. I’m off to work on my manuscript! (Right after I check Instagram.)

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:: My Storytelling Superpower ::

* This post is in response to a writing prompt from DIY MFA Book Club which I wrote about here.

The third writing prompt in the series is this:

 

Whoa. Like OMG, WHOA.

Included with the third writing prompt was a fun little quiz to help participants figure out their storytelling superpower. My result was The Survivor which was summarized as:

You’ve got a penchant for characters who will do whatever it takes to survive. Maybe they’re stranded on a desert island, captured by an evil genius, or fighting to beat a terminal illness. Or maybe they want something so desperately that not getting it feels like a matter of life and death. Regardless of their situation, you’re drawn to creating characters your readers will admire for their pluck, determination, and sheer creative willpower.

This blew my mind because my protagonist in the novel I’m writing, The Colonel’s Keeper, is a survivor, hands-down. My character, Mary Agnes, endures a tumultuous marriage filled with years of emotional abuse and a near-fatal shooting at the hands of her alcoholic husband.

Throughout this process, I’ve been amused by the idiosyncrasies that have surfaced. The discoveries I’ve made, being drawn to writing about survivors, for example, have been a pleasant surprise. My inclination to write works of historical fiction was another unexpected revelation, especially since history (edging out math only slightly) was my least favorite subject of study in school.

I’m not sure I’d call either of these a superpower but they are definitely themes that I imagine will recur as I continue to hone my craft.

:: Honor Your Reality ::

* This post is in response to a writing prompt from DIY MFA Book Club which I wrote about here.

The second writing prompt in the series is this:

In essence, this question is asking us how we balance real life with the writing life.

This is a tough one to answer because I’m still pretty inexperienced as far as big projects go. However, I think my recent attempt at participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) opened my eyes to the importance of setting realistic expectations. Writing is HARD. Sometimes I feel blessed by the writing Gods… making the time to write comes easily, the words flow onto the page and it all doesn’t completely suck. More often though, I’m tormented by the inability to find/make the time to sit down and work, I’m at a complete loss for words and what I do manage to write is unimaginative and dull.

The reality for me is that I’m lucky if I can knock out 300 words whenever I do force myself to park my ass in the chair and work. My outline is currently a mess because I’ve been indecisive about how many parts it should be based on a gap in time within my story and whether or not that will affect the number of chapters, word count, etc. (I know at this stage it is not supposed to matter but I can’t stop obsessing over it.) I *thought* I would be able to complete my first draft a lot quicker; I’m coming up on a full year and only have two-thirds of it completed. And, to top it all off, I have no fucking clue what I’m doing.

All of that has to be balanced with my responsibilities as a wife and mother while managing a household, paid writing work, projects and hobbies, health and fitness endeavors, and whatever else life throws my way. I guess, to be honest, I don’t know that there really is a true balance. The key though, I’m learning, is to ignore the unrealistic expectations and focus on doing what I can when I can.

To sum it up, I suppose that I honor my reality by showing up to write even though life is a big, crazy blur and my work is all a mess and complicated and I’m afraid that I don’t know what I’m doing. And I’ll keep showing up because I know that’s the only way I’ll achieve what I’ve set out to do.

 

:: How Did You Become A Writer? ::

* This post is in response to a writing prompt from DIY MFA Book Club which I wrote about here.

I didn’t set out to become a writer. It sort of sought me out.

It is said that we often don’t see the correlation between our chosen career path and what we are called to do until we look back over our job history and work experiences. This is certainly true for me. I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer until about 2010 when I discovered that I had two non-fiction book ideas floating around in my head. One was about dreadlocks with a working title of A Head Full of Dreads and Nothing to Wear (no, I’m not kidding) and the other was a cookbook that focused on bean recipes and was titled something along the lines of Beans, Beans, the Magical Fruit. (Also, not kidding.)

In 2010, I was laid-off from a job in the fire service. I’d spend the previous five years in the role of Community Liaison Specialist and Public Information Officer where my duties included writing press releases, public service announcements, and an endless array of material for publications on fire prevention. Prior to that, I’d spent about eight years working for a radio station where I wrote news stories and advertising copy.

A throwback to my fire service days. (The house behind me was being burned down intentionally, FYI.)

Following the layoff, I started teaching yoga and created a monthly newsletter that included articles about the practice or specific poses that I sent out to my students. In early 2013, I started training for my first marathon and subsequently started a blog to chronicle the journey which I kept active until the end of 2016. I was also asked from time-to-time to help write things for family and friends; copy for a website my brother was building, an obituary for my husband’s grandmother upon her passing, a guest post for a friends blog, race previews for Run Oregon.

All the while, I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do with my life.

At some point in 2015, it became clear. What I was meant to do, I had already been doing for years! Regardless of job titles, I had always found a way to weave writing into my duties whether it was asked for of the position or not. Writing gave me joy and it seemed to come naturally. In fact, one of the best compliments – albeit slightly backhanded – I ever received was from the Fire Chief I worked under. He once said to me that “despite not having a college education, you’re a pretty good writer.” That comment has stuck with me all of these years and I still try to live up to that praise.

Writing – with the ultimate goal of being a published author – is now how I dream of spending my days.

 

:: DIY MFA Book Club ::

As a writer who aspires to become better at my craft, I try to regularly participate in activities that are in alignment with that goal. Reading and studying various texts by seasoned authors and authorities on the subject is a prominent piece of the puzzle. One such book that I picked up last summer and have been slowly making my way through is DIY MFA by Gabriela Pereira.

For the sake of full disclosure and transparency, I do not have a college degree. In fact, I dropped out of community college when I was 17 years old before completing the first term. (Honestly, I don’t think I even made it a month!) While that is another story for another day, I will say that on many occasions over the years in professional settings especially, I’ve allowed the lack of a certificate to make me feel less than enough. Now, 23 years later, I still find myself occasionally wishing that I had followed that path because I would love to have a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. However, at least at this point in my life, it’s not in the cards.

So back to DIY MFA. I was drawn to it because Ms. Pereira has created a do-it-yourself alternative to the college experience and teaches her readers how to apply the fundamentals of the MFA program – writing, reading and building a support network – without stepping foot on a campus or going into crippling debt.

In addition to the book, she offers a number of resources and coaching opportunities to help writers refine their skills. One such program I’m currently participating in is a book club that works through some of the concepts in DIY MFA and includes challenges such as writing prompts in which we are asked to write about a specific topic and share our work. Our first assignment is based on the question: how did you become a writer?

I’ll be sharing my response to that prompt in a forthcoming post as well as future ones throughout the event.

DIY MFA Book Club Participant

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