Let me introduce Gabriela Pereira, the founder of DIY MFA. She’s funny. She’s sincere. She’s serious about her work and helping writers. So, I’ve interviewed her.
This is a different kind of interview where I put Gabriela in the hot seat. No boring questions…only ones that give you the inside scoop on the life of a creative entrepreneur.
Let’s start out with a bang.
If you were told you could only give a fiction writer ONE piece of advice, what spectacular wisdom would share?
Wow, you’re not holding back with these questions. Love it!
If I could only give one piece of advice or “spectacular wisdom” I’d say this: Don’t try to be spectacular. Or wise. In other words, don’t allow other people’s impressions or opinions to dictate what success means to you.
Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that each and every human on this planet has a story to share and the capacity to achieve their version of excellence on the page. The problem is that many writers let other people’s definition of success derail their creative process. They listen too much to criticism and give up before they have the chance to see any breakthroughs.
Writing is an act of faith. You have to believe that the verbal spillage you’re accumulating on the page today will become a coherent story tomorrow. You have to trust that this story that means the world to you will also eventually find a home in the publishing universe. You have to be a little bit delusional to succeed as a writer and if you buy into all that “common sense” advice from those non-writers in your life, you’ll never start.
So my advice is don’t try to be spectacular. Just be you and trust that it will be enough.
What is the most DIFFICULT feedback you’ve ever had to give to a writer?
Honestly, it’s been a long time since I’ve had to give difficult feedback. This has to do both with quality of the writers I’ve had the privilege of working with and also the type of feedback I give.
When it comes to caliber of writers, the word nerds in the DIY MFA community are a cut above. This has nothing to do with how “advanced” they are; in fact, we have many first-time writers in our signature programs. Instead, it’s all about the mindset they adopt toward receiving feedback. When writers approach critique with curiosity and a deep desire to improve their skills, it’s easy to give feedback, even if it means telling someone they may need to do a major overhaul.
The other reason that I rarely have to give difficult feedback is because of how I approach the critique process. I don’t consider myself an “editor” or a “coach.” I’m a diagnostician. My superpower as a writer and teacher is being able to look at a small sample of someone’s work and identify telltale signs of bigger problems. My job isn’t to criticize, it’s simply to notice patterns and bring those to the writer’s attention.
It’s very hard to be truly critical when you give feedback this way because it’s an objective approach. It’s not about passing judgment, but about helping writers see what they’re doing on the page and the effect it has on a reader. It’s up to the writer then to decide whether they want to “fix” it or not.
When you first started DIY MFA, was there a MISTAKE you made (perhaps one that is a funny story) that you’re willing to share with us?
Oh gosh, I made so many mistakes when I first started! One doozy was when I thought the way to build an email list was using a Google form. (I know, lunacy!) When I look back, I don’t think of this so much as a mistake but as a learning opportunity. Yes, at the time, it was devastating to rebuild my email list from scratch, which meant losing all my subscribers (all 12 of them!). It’s funny, nowadays when people unsubscribe from my newsletter, I take it as a badge of honor. I think: “Yesssss! 100 unsubscribes this month! I’m zeroing in on my superfans!”
There were some happy accidents, too, like that time I went to a writing conference when I was nine months pregnant to the day. I’m not kidding. My son was due to arrive the day after the conference ended. (He was actually a week late so it all worked out fine.) But the happy accident is that it was at that conference that I met my publisher and this connection eventually led to my book deal a few years later.
Can you imagine if I hadn’t gone to the conference? I could have so easily decided I was too tired or too pregnant or too whatever… and I would have missed out on a huge opportunity! Sometimes the smartest move you can make is doing something everyone else thinks is completely insane.
What is the BEST comment anyone has ever made about DIY MFA 101? By best, I mean one that warmed your heart and made you do the happy dance.
There are so many, but I think one of my favorite comments—and perhaps one of the ones I hear most often—is: “Before DIY MFA, I didn’t think I was a writer but now I do.”
I had one student in a workshop years ago who couldn’t write a sentence much less an entire story. This was back when I did some of my teaching at live, in-person workshops, and whenever we did in-class exercises, this writer would end up with a blank page. Slowly, he started dipping his toe into the writing. Eventually he was writing short stories and essays and even got published! This is my absolute favorite thing—when I can help someone go from muggle to word wizard.
My other favorite comment is when word nerds say that DIY MFA is more than a writing program, it’s a lifestyle. For many creative people, we can be our own worst enemies, so the biggest hurdles have nothing to do with the mechanics of writing. Instead, it’s all about mindset and attitude. This is why in our DIY MFA programs, I always focus first on the bigger mindset issues like building resilience or developing a writing habit. It’s a lot easier to master the craft when you’ve managed your mindset.
In fact, I have a free video series starting Monday April 22nd, 2019 that digs deep into some of the biggest mindset hurdles that writers face. This series is only available for a limited time so hop on over now while the series is available.
How will a writer BENEFIT from DIY MFA 101? So they too can do the happy dance.
The goal of DIY MFA 101 is to help writers get the “knowledge without the college” so they can simulate the graduate school experience without actually going back to school. That’s the fancy description, but really the strength of this program is that it grows with the writer.
You see, a central component to the DIY MFA philosophy is that there is always more to learn, more skills to master. Writers who join 101 aren’t just looking for some one-and-done solution to all their writing problems. They crave learning. They want expand their skills not because they want some external marker of success but because of an internal drive, a curiosity, a craving to expand their intellectual horizons.
DIY MFA 101 does not focus on “information transfer.” Yes, there is plenty of information in the program, but the focus isn’t on me transferring what I know from my brain to that of my students. Instead, my goal is to give writers a framework so they can continue their learning journey for the long haul. The course is structured so that writers can revisit the material again and again, and continue to learn and grow from it.
Let me share a concrete example. Many traditional MFA programs require students to take literature courses. In those courses, the professor often predetermines what books go on the syllabus or reading list. At DIY MFA, we don’t assign a specific reading list. Instead, we offer a framework so that writers can create their own syllabus.
The advantage of the DIY MFA philosophy is twofold. First, writers can focus on reading that is relevant to their goals and that serves their writing. They don’t have to waste time with reading that feels like an exercise in futility. The second benefit of this approach is that it empowers writers rather than simply spoon-feeding information.
I often tell people that DIY MFA 101 is not for the faint of heart. It takes a particular type of intrepid determination to embrace this program. Thankfully, most writers have this “fire in the belly” already, and when they join the course, they’ll feel like they’ve found their home.
At what stage in their WRITING JOURNEY should a writer take the course?
Don’t be fooled by the “101” in the course title, this course is not only for beginners. I developed this program so that it would grow with writers. This is why we don’t cut off access to the materials after the term is over. What you get from the course as a new writer will be very different from what you learn as your skills increase and you can come back and revisit the materials again and again.
This program works equally well for writers who are complete beginners and for those who are “in the trenches” working on drafting or revising a project. The difference lies in how these writers use the materials. New writers might want to focus their attention on the first few sections and build up a solid writing habit, whereas writers working on a specific project will get better results if they apply the techniques to their work-in-progress. The later lessons give an overview of platform and publishing for writers who are ready to start sending out finished work.
The only writers who might not be a fit for this course are those who are already published and are focusing more on the marketing and business side of writing. For those writers, we have a more advanced course Pixels to Platform which is due to reopen later this year or early next.
What is your biggest CHALLENGE in being the head instigator of DIY MFA?
My biggest challenge is that I have unrelenting standards. My perfectionism is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing, of course, is that I put a lot of care and attention in everything I create. This may be a big reason why so many writers are drawn to DIY MFA and why so many writers keep coming back to our programs year after year. The downside, of course, is that these super-high standards have made it very difficult for me to delegate tasks to other members of my team. Heck, just the idea of having a team at all was a challenge for me in the beginning.
But just like with writing, building a business is a learning process, and I’ve definitely “mellowed out” over the years. Having kids helped with that. It’s impossible to achieve perfection when you have an infant spitting up on your shirt or a toddler sneezing snot onto your manuscript. Now that my kids are school-aged and more independent, it feels almost miraculous to reclaim my work time, and I like to think that I’m a bit more relaxed now than I used to be about making everything perfect.
Tell us a SECRET…
Here’s a dirty little secret: I vehemently dislike reading literary fiction. (Blasphemy, I know!) You would think that as someone who studied literature in college and grad school, that literary fiction would be my jam, but it so isn’t. In fact, for the longest time, I thought the reason I disliked it was because I wasn’t smart enough to “get” it.
Over the years, I’ve realized that this response has nothing to do with the capacity of my brain cells and everything to do with personal taste. It took a long time, but I’ve finally given myself permission not to like literary fiction. What do I like to read? Pretty much anything genre and I love children’s books and YA.
Our flagship program, DIY MFA 101, has received rave reviews and has helped over 200 writers to:
- Get their words on the page so they can finish a draft once and for all.
- Master the craft, so they can write the best book possible.
- Understand the publishing industry, so they can get their stories out into the world.
Writers who’ve completed this course have gone on to reach impressive goals, like: signing with literary agents, winning awards, or being published in anthologies or literary magazines.
Fictionary and DIY MFA
So why am I so thrilled to have Gabriela here? Well…since you asked, I’ve taken the entire DIY MFA 101 course, and Gabriela and I are kindred spirits when it comes to editing a novel. It’s kind of like finding a new BFF.
DIY MFA gives you the theory that lays the groundwork for using Fictionary to edit your story. Take the course and apply the knowledge you learned in a practical way specific to your manuscript using Fictionary. Salt and pepper, Ketchup and mustard, moon and the stars, DIY MFA and Fictionary. You get the idea.
Fictionary is online software that simplifies story editing. Fictionary will help you evaluate your story on a scene-by-scene basis. You’ll be able to focus on problem areas in your manuscript and improve it quickly. Then your beta readers will be impressed!
Why not check out Fictionary’s free 14-day trial and tell better stories? We don’t ask for a credit card until you’re ready to pay, so there’s no risk.
Thanks for reading!
P.S. I only promote people that I can stand behind 100%. I know that you’re in good hands with Gabriela which is why I’m a proud affiliate for her programs! I took the DIY MFA course before deciding to partner with DIY MFA.