Please give a warm welcome to an author who writes about one my favorite things… WRITING! Welcome Gabriela Periera!
What were you like at school?
I was a total nerd who loved geeking out over weird things like Fibonacci numbers, non-Euclidean geometry and Catullus’ poetry (and yes, for the record, I know how to swear in Latin). As a violin-playing, bilingual, bookish child of Brazilian immigrants, fitting in wasn’t exactly an option so I learned early on to embrace my inner geek.
I was also a bit of a trouble-maker, but not in the way you might think. I didn’t rebel by drinking or smoking or doing whatever teens did to freak out the authority figures. Instead, my personal mission was to challenge and question everyone and everything. I loved playing devil’s
advocate and defy the “establishment” whether it consisted of authority figures or other kids at school. My most victorious moments were when I would craft an irrefutable argument and prove the establishment wrong. I’ve mellowed out a bit since then, but I still have that instigator streak.
Were you good at English?
It depends on what you mean by being “good at English.” I was bookish and started reading really young (like in preschool) but I had no patience for boring things like spelling, writing book reports, or ridiculous homework assignments. Spelling seemed like such a superfluous, cosmetic concern when what I really wanted to do was write down my ideas. Book reports and other such assignments were equally pointless in my mind. After all, if had already the teacher read the book, why was it my job to tell her what it was about or answer those silly questions?
My iconoclastic attitude wound up getting me tossed into remedial English in 3rd grade. Being bilingual sealed the deal because apparently back in the 1980s, speaking another language was considered a learning disability.
In retrospect, though, being in remedial English was the best thing that could have happened to me. It was the only class that met regularly in the computer lab which meant that I learned to touch-type and got good at using a computer before computers became ubiquitous. Given how writing and publishing have evolved over the years, I’d say that those were much more important skills than acing a spelling test or writing a book report on Little House on the Prairie.
When did you decide to become a writer?
It all started in first grade. I was in the school library and I wandered into the “big kids” section. I pulled The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander off the shelf and started reading. By the time our teacher called us to line up I had read the first chapter and was hooked.
Then a wave of panic came over me. In my first-grader brain, I thought that if I could read the books in the 5th grade section, pretty soon I’d be able to read all the books in the library, and after that all the books in the world. Then I’d have nothing else to read and I’d be bored forever.
My teacher noticed I was upset and the next day she introduced a new activity to the class. The idea was we could write and illustrate our own stories, then staple them together like a real book and put them in the book corner. After that, there was only one thing I wanted to do: write.
The conscious decision, though, came much later. In 2007, I decided as a New Year’s resolution that I was going to write. I had no idea what I planned to write, so I decided to go about it methodically and step-by-step. I started doing a writing prompt every single day for the month of January and by the time February came around, I was on a roll. I haven’t stopped since.
How and why did you start DIY MFA?
A year later, in 2008, I wanted to up my writing game but I wasn’t sure what the best next step was, so I did what I thought made the most sense: enroll in an MFA (Master of Fine Arts). I figured after two years of school, I could try to get a teaching job somewhere so I could pay the bills until writing became my full-time gig. Until then I had always pictured myself as a writer who would teach “on the side” and I never imagined how dramatically the tables would turn.
That game-changing moment happened at graduation, when it hit me that the skills I had learned in the MFA—writing, reading, critiquing, etc.– were all things you could learn on your own, outside of school. Any writer could teach themselves those skills if they had patience, persistence, and a plan. It’s not like MFA programs had some trade secret or “formula” for becoming a better writer.
After this lightbulb moment, I went home and mulled this ides over, then started sketching what a do-it-yourself version of an MFA would look like. After a few weeks of noodling, I had a foundation figured out for what would later become DIY MFA.
So, how DO you DIY your MFA?
Simple: you write, you read, and you develop your own personal writing community.
In the traditional MFA, the writing component happens when you submit pieces to your workshop for critique. Also, most MFA programs have a thesis semester where a writer crafts a manuscript in their chosen niche. The reading component occurs in literature classes, not unlike ones you might take in college as an English major. Finally, the community aspect happens in the workshop as you give and receive critique, and also via readings or panel discussions sponsored by the writing department. MFA programs offer a one-stop-shop where writers can get all of these components in the same place, but you can also recreate that experience outside academia.
At DIY MFA we believe in writing with focus, reading with purpose, and building community. Writing, of course, happens every time you put your pen to the page and crank out those words. Reading with purpose means not just reading broadly, but with an eye toward improving your own craft. And while building community does involve giving and receiving critique, it also means learning about the publishing industry (both traditional and indie) and mastering all those other business-y topics that they don’t often teach in an MFA program.
Did you always envision DIY MFA as a book?
It’s funny, I never really thought of it as anything else until I took a marketing/platform class in early 2011. At some point in the first week of the course, the teacher told me that DIY MFA wasn’t just a book, it was a business model. This was an eye-opening (and also terrifying) moment for me because picturing DIY MFA as a book felt very comfortable and safe. It took me a while to learn how to think outside-the-box (or in this case, the book), but once I was able to shift my mindset, I haven’t looked back.
What’s your favorite aspect of DIY MFA?
There are so many things I love about DIY MFA, but probably my favorite part is creating new courses, conference talks, or any other cool learning tools. I love combining my love of books, writing, psychology, and design to create tools and techniques to help writers. A close second is interviewing bestselling authors and industry pros on the DIY MFA podcast. I love it because it gives me a chance to talk to some of my literary heroes and geek out about books and writing with them.
How do you feel about marketing?
I LOVE marketing, but I didn’t always. When I first started DIY MFA I was afraid of promoting anything I did because I didn’t want to be annoying or sales-y. Then it hit me that marketing and writing weren’t all that different. It’s all about understanding the psychology of your reader and then communicating your message effectively. Over the years, I’ve come to believe that the very skills we use as writers translate directly over into marketing. We just have to learn how to channel our “writing brain” into the marketing part of our job.
For instance, if you want to understand your readers and their motivations or desires, you can flex the same mental muscle you use when you want to dig deep and understand your characters. Similarly, those same research skills you might do for world-building in your novel will also serve you well when it comes time to do market research for your book.
Many writers get anxious when it comes to marketing, like somehow their creative minds can’t handle all the dollars and cents of it. I understand that anxiety but want to dispel the myth that goes with it. Writers are not inherently “bad” at marketing. In fact, the very creativity that makes us great at writing that can also make us strong marketers. I think many writers don’t give themselves enough credit and are actually a lot better at marketing than they realize.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
It might sound like I have delusions of grandeur to say this, but my goal is to revolutionize higher education in a way similar to how Walt Disney turned the entertainment industry on its head.
A lot of people criticize Disney, and as someone who has closely studied his work over the years, I know he had a lot of flaws. It’s the strengths, however, that I want to emulate:
* a passion for charting new territory and doing things no one had ever dreamed was possible
* the attention to detail and creating an element of “magic” in every project
* a holistic approach so that it’s not just about creating a movie, a store display, or a ride at a theme part, but about crafting an experience
For me, education has always had an element of magic to it. My goal is to create courses that deliver that magic, that joy of learning to my students. I mentioned earlier that I used to see myself as a writer who taught “on the side.” Now it’s the opposite. I’m a teacher, and writing is just one of the many tools I use to teach writing and reach students.
What are you working on at the moment?
The DIY MFA book was out this summer, so my team and I spent most of early 2016 putting together fun pre-book events. Now that things have quieted down, I’m starting to look ahead to life post book launch and my big focus in the coming months will be in expanding the DIY MFA curriculum. So, look for new courses launching over at DIYMFA.com, and also our online conference, Writer Igniter Con 2016, which will take place later this fall. As always, the best way for writers to stay in the loop is to join the DIY MFA email list, since I always share my breaking news there first.
What is your favorite motivational quote?
“In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future.”
I love this quote because it so relevant to where publishing is right now. Publishing is in a state of drastic change. There’s no use ignoring that change because it’s already happening. The writers who will rise to the top are the ones who are fast learners and can course-correct as they go. Being a strong learner is by far the most important skill a writer can develop.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Stop calling yourselves “aspiring writers.” If you write, then you’re a writer. Be proud of it. Own it.
After all, no one goes around calling themselves aspiring plumbers or an aspiring neurosurgeons. For some reason, it’s only in the creative fields where we see people adding on
that qualifier to their titles. If you write, they you already are a writer. Be confident and don’t let the naysayers get you down.
Gabriela Pereira is the Instigator of DIY MFA, the do-it-yourself alternative to a Masters degree in writing. She earned an MFA from The New School and has helped hundreds of writers get the MFA experience without going to school. She teaches writing via conferences, workshops, and online courses and also hosts the podcast DIY MFA Radio.
When she’s not teaching or developing new courses, Gabriela enjoys writing middle grade and teen fiction, with a few “short stories for grown-ups” thrown in for good measure. Her book about DIY MFA will be out in July 2016 from Writer’s Digest Books.
Thanks so much joining us on the blog this week! Please be sure to check out Gabby’s book and follow her all over the internet!
Amazon Author Page: https://amazon.com/author/gabrielapereira