Gabriela Pereira of DIYMFA talks about her belief that you don’t go to a workshop, you workshop writing and what that looks like in her DIYMFA community.
Choose a nursery rhyme.
That is going to be the plot of your story.
The key with this exercise is that now choose an author whose voice you love.
Write that story with that character, but in the voice of the author you chose.
This is actually a great prompt to do more than once. Once you’ve done this exercise, you may want to come back to it after the StoryADay challenge and do it again, choosing different writers as the inspiration for the voice.
If you do this, use the same Nursery Rhyme each time. Then you’ll start to get a sense of how, when you’re putting on another author’s voice, you’re sort of wearing that author’s voice suit, how your voice behaves in that ecosystem, and eventually you’ll start to get a sense for what your voice is and what you bring to the table that is completely unique and you can then, write.
After you’ve done it two or three times, I want to challenge you to write that same story in your own voice with your own storytelling awesomeness. This is a great exercise to practice stretching yourself a little bit in terms of your voice, but also to help you find your voice.
People always say, you need to find your voice. Well, you never lost it in the first place. It’s always been there. This will just help you uncover. The things that make your voice especially unique. So there you have it, the Nursery Rhyme Exercise
Gabriela Pereira is a writer, teacher, and self-proclaimed word nerd who wants to challenge the status quo of higher education. As the founder and instigator of DIYMFA.com, her mission is to empower writers to take an entrepreneurial approach to their education and professional growth. Gabriela earned her MFA in creative writing from The New School and teaches at national conferences, at local workshops, and online. She is also the host of DIY MFA Radio, a popular podcast where she interviews best-selling authors and offers short audio master classes.
Gabriela is a long-time friend of both myself and the StoryADay community. To find out more about DIY MFA, click here.
Leave a comment to let us know what you wrote about today, and how it went!
We talk about the pillars of a writing life, why Gabriela wanted to create a do-it-yourself DIYMFA, and that old favorite: Imposter Syndrome.
When I started StoryADay May back in 2010, some of 100 or so people who took part really stuck with me. One was Gabriela Pereira, who had just finished up an MFA and was transitioning from student to working writer. We shared an enthusiasm both for writing and for the hair-brained scheme.
Back then, I was a couple of years ahead of her in the online, community-building, content-marketing , writing-for-pay experience. Now she has soared into the writing world as a leader, a teacher, an inspirer and, in her own words, Chief Instigator at her project: DIY MFA.
This afternoon I tuned in to her latest webinar, sort of as a favor. I’ve heard the talk before, live and in person, and was really just showing in case no one else did. Of course, there were tons of people on the call, loads of questions from attendees, and Gabriela fired people up and sent them away with tools and techniques to make their writing better, as always.
But — it shouldn’t surprise me, but it did — what I hadn’t expected to happen was that I had a breakthrough about my own novel-in-progress, while listening to Gabriela talk. Suddenly, I knew exactly what the turning point at the mid-point of my novel needed to be. More than knowing it, I could *picture* it.
I rushed off to my office and scrawled three pages of notes, opened up Scrivener and started adding scene cards to the second half of my novel’s file. I got super excited, and then realized how much writing I had to do…then chose to see that as exciting too!
Did I mention I’ve heard this talk at least twice before?
Lesson learned: when you find a teacher/mentor/friend whose words you really connect to, stick to them. Revisit their lessons. Re-read their books. Get on webinars and conference calls with them. Ask questions. Go over and over their lessons at different stages of your development and the development of each of your projects.
When the student is ready, the teacher appears, as my old mate the Buddha apparently never said.
If you want to get in on the remaining webinars in Gabriela’s current series, here’s some info:
(Some links on this page—the webinars and the one to Scrivener—are affiliate links, but I never recommend anything I don’t believe in 100%.)
This prompt…exercises your brain in a new way.
Today’s prompt comes from the Chief Instigator of the DIYMFA program, Gabriela Pereira. Always full of writer-craft goodness, you should definitely be checking out DIYMFA.com, always full of writer-craft goodness, and the wonderful weekly DIYMFA Radio podcast.
Famous Last Words
Most prompts give you a place to start and let you take things from there. Today we’re going to flip the equation. I’m going to give you a last line and you need to write toward it. In other words, your assignment will be to write a piece that leads you to that last line.
The reason this prompt is so useful is that it exercises your brain in a new way. As writers, we’re used to taking a kernel of an idea and running with it, but it’s a totally different proposition to have a fixed ending and finding your way to it.
You may someday find yourself in a situation where you need to use this skill, like if you know your ending but haven’t figured out yet how to get there. This prompt is great practice for doing just that.
Take the last line from your favorite book or choose one from the list below. Now write a short piece that ends with that line.
1. No one has claimed them yet.
2. “Let me tell you about it.”
3. Everything must go.
4. “Make me pretty.”
5. And it was still hot.
These are all last lines from actual books. Can you guess which books they came from? Answers are below.
1) From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
2) Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
3) Feed by M.T. Anderson
4) Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
5) Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Gabriela Pereira is the founder of DIY MFA, the do-it-yourself alternative to a Masters degree in writing. She is also a speaker, podcast host for DIY MFA Radio, and author of the forthcoming book DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build Your Community (Writer’s Digest Books, July 2016). For more info and email updates, sign up for her newsletter.
Listen to me and Gabriela Pereira of DIYMFA run through all the tips, tricks and really great reasons to give it a shot.
Her podcast, DIYMFA Radio is a great listen. If you’re not subscribed yet, you should!
This week’s Write On Wednesday post is a reminder about this prompt I posted during the 2015 May’s Challenge.
The DIYMFA Anthology/Writer-Igniter deadline is fast approaching. Polish up your earlier story now, or write a new one today.
(And good luck!)
Gabriela Pereira is the Chief Instigator at DIYMFA.com, the home of the do-it-yourself MFA in creative writing. In her new podcast series she has interviewed everyone from agents, novelists, writing teachers to marketing and networking guru Guy Kawasaki! You should definitely check that out!). She is hard at work on a DIYMFA handbook due out next year from Writer’s Digest Books.
This prompt is a little bit different today — and it comes with the possibility of publication.
Over at DIYMFA they’re launching an anthology and the only stipulations are that you write to the theme and use the custom-built Writer Igniter feature at DIYMFA to somehow spark your story. It’s a fun little slot-machine of a prompt generator that Gabriela had custom built for her site. It’s kind of irresistable…
The theme for the anthology is ORIGINS. The deadline is August 31, 2015, so you have plenty of time to brush up whatever story you sketch out today.
The rules are as follows: spin the Writer Igniter (no more than three spins!); take a screenshot of your result (ALT + Print Screen on Windows; CMD + SHIFT + 4 on Mac, then draw a box around whatever you want to capture); then write a story.
The finished story should be up to 2,000 words. See more guidelines for submission here.
Choose a piece of music from the list below. Listen through it once or twice and get your mind in the mood of the music. Then start writing.
Gabriela Pereira is the Creative Director and Instigator of DIY MFA, the do-it-yourself alternative to a Masters degree in writing. She creates workshops and tools to help writers get the MFA experience without going to school.
Gabriela holds an MFA in Writing for Children from The New School. When she’s not teaching or designing learning tools for DIY MFA, she enjoys writing some fiction of her own. She especially loves writing middle grade and teen fiction, with a few “”short stories for grown-ups”” thrown in for good measure. Visit DIYMFA.com to learn more about Gabriela and DIY MFA.
[Also, don’t miss the Writer Igniter visual prompt machine at Gabriela’s site. So much fun!]
Just because StoryADay May 2013 is ending soon, don’t think I’m letting you off the hook. You’ve developed some great writing habits this past month and you shouldn’t let those go.
To encourage you to continue with your short story writing, I’ve teamed up with Gabriela Pereira of DIYMFA.com and, next week, we’re bringing you:
It’s an opportunity to:
Gabriela will also be sharing some of her DIY MFA revision strategies, which will be a huge help to us around here, sitting on piles of first drafts as we always are at the end of May.
The #7DayStory Challenge starts June 3, 2013. Check back here on Monday for details.
As we sit here, there are only seven days left in May. Seven more stories and then you’re free to take a break, keep writing, set your stories on fire or, preferably revise them into works of genius. To help you out with that latter option I’ve recruited Gabriela Pereira from DIYMFA.com to give you some tips on revision.
OK, I’ll admit it. When I was in high school (and college and art school and grad school) I was definitely guilty of turning in work before revising it. Sure, I would do a quick spell-check and maybe give it a once-over for grammar, but rarely did I ever roll up my sleeves and do serious revision. And I totally know why I was so resistant to revision for so long: revision is flippin’ scary. The goal for this post is to make revision a little less scary. Let’s get started!
Principles of Revision
Before we dive into the how-to part of this post, here are a few things to keep in mind as you revise your work.
1) Let your writing cool down before you revise. Revision allows you to add rational choices and strategy to the frantic bursts of creativity that came out in the first draft. Take at least two weeks (maybe longer) after writing your draft to let it cool down before you revise. Step away and work on something else, then come back to it when you’re able to look at it with an objective eye. The beauty of StoryADay is that by the time you get to Day 31 of the challenge, the story you wrote on Day 1 is probably cooled off enough that you can go back and revise.
2) You need to finish first. Nothing you write is etched in stone… you can always come back and make it better later on. You can do fix just about any problem in revision, but you can’t revise a blank page. Finish first. This is why StoryADay is such an awesome challenge: it forces you to finish. Once you’re done with the challenge, you’ll have 31 finished pieces that you can pick and choose from when you start to revise.
3) Do a first read-through. Try to create a relaxing reading experience, similar to how you would read for pleasure. Make sure you’re not focused on the fact that you’re reading your own work. Make minimal notes. Your goal is to absorb the story as a whole, not nitpick over minor details. Tip: I put my drafts into Kindle format and read it on the kindle. This makes it feel like I’m reading a “real book” and not just a printed out draft. With the Kindle, I use the footnote function to make my notes, and since I’m lazy about typing notes with my thumbs, this forces me to keep the notes short.
4) Extract an outline. Write an outline of what you’ve got as a way of getting a handle on what you have written. Then adjust the outline according to the notes you made in your read-through and implement those changes in the draft.
Revise in Layers
I like to think of revision as climbing up a mountain. As you go up the mountain, you focus on the challenges and struggles of that one section. You don’t think about climbing the whole mountain at once (or else you’ll psych yourself out) but instead, only worry about that one small slice of the mountain. Revision is the same way. You start at the base of the mountain, revising the most basic elements of your story, then work your way up until you’re focusing on the nitty-gritty details like word choice and grammar. In my mind, revision looks a little bit like this:
The advantage of approaching the revision process in layers is twofold. First, you avoid overwhelming yourself because you’re only focusing on one layer at a time. Second, if you’re working with a deadline and you don’t have time to address each layer, this method can be especially valuable. If you start at the bottom and work your way up, at the very least you’ll have covered the most important elements of the story whereas if you focus on line edits first, you won’t have time to work out those bigger problems. Here’s a quick summary of each section of the revision mountain and how to address it.
Narration: This is where you consider how you’re telling the story. Is the point of view (POV) right for your story? Should it be in past tense rather than present? Is the voice of the narrator working? The best way to figure that out is to take the first page of your story and rewrite it according to the different options you’re considering, then decide which you like best.
Character Development: Don’t try to juggle all your characters at once. Start with the protagonist and figure out his/her arc, then look at key members of the supporting cast (like the villain or other important supporting characters). Work on each character separately to keep things manageable.
Plot: Here’s where extracting an outline can be extremely useful. If the typical list-format doesn’t work for you, there are many other outline options out there so you’re bound to find something that works for you.
World Building, Dialogue Description and Theme: Focus on these elements one at a time. Is the setting for your story clear? Does it feel real to the reader? How about dialogue and description? Do they flow and ring true? Finally, what’s your theme and does your story convey it?
Ultimately, revision is where you add the strategic elements to your story. Now that you know who the characters are and what’s going to happen, you can plant foreshadowing moments and hint at themes that will be important later on. You can’t do all this in your first draft because during that stage of the process you don’t know your characters or the story completely. It’s only once you know the ending and who your characters are at their core that you can manipulate the story in a strategic way.
Once you’ve revised your story, you’re ready to think about submitting it. For details on the submission process, you can look at this handy guide on How to Submit to Literary Magazines over at the DIY MFA website. And don’t forget to join in on the Sub2Pub challenge! Write on!
Gabriela Pereira is the Founder and Instigator at DIY MFA: the Do-It-Yourself Program in Creative Writing. DIY MFA is dedicated to helping writers improve their technique and build the benefits of a traditional MFA into their everyday writing lives.
Gabriela has an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School with a concentration in Writing for Children. She works as a freelance writing teacher and has taught workshops throughout New York City. Her fiction has appeared in various literary magazines and one of her lesson plans was included in the anthology DON’T FORGET TO WRITE, published by 826 National. She writes regular columns on writing for the STORIES FOR CHILDREN newsletter and CURIOSITY QUILLS PRESS.
Visit DIYMFA.com for more information or connect with Gabriela on twitter (@DIYMFA), Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest. For weekly writing boosts, signup for the newsletter WRITER FUEL and stay in the loop with all the latest at DIY MFA.
Gabriela Pereira is a former StoryADay participant and has spent the past month launching her DIY MFA 2.0, an intensive writing program, all online.
She took some time to tell me about the course and give some great advice for writers about to embark on a big writing jag (know anyone like that?)
Tell me about DIY MFA 2.0
The idea behind DIY MFA is to simulate the experience of a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing without actually going to school. DIY MFA has 4 main components: Reading, Writing, Workshops and Community. The original DIY MFA (which took place in September 2010) covered these four topics at length.
DIY MFA 2.0 takes a different approach, focusing mostly on the “writing” part of the equation. The idea in DIY MFA 2.0 is to spark new ideas and create a stash of ideas that writers can go to when they hit the wall or feel a creative drought coming on. There are 4 ways that DIY MFA can help generate new ideas and those are through: character, story, mood and words. Each week in April we focused on one of these areas and explored different writing exercises and techniques with that theme. Ultimately, the goal is to develop methods and tools for generating ideas so that when you need lots of new ideas in a short period of time (like when you’re writing a Story A Day) you have a bunch of concepts already ready and waiting.
How do you make time for writing?
I don’t make time for writing. I steal it. I’m always on the lookout for hidden pockets of time when I can read or write because if I sit around waiting for a huge block of time to land in my lap, I know it will never happen. I live in a city, so for me subways and buses are great places to sneak in some writing. I love my Kindle because I can put a copy of my WIP on it and can edit on the go. I also carry small notebook with me everywhere so that if I’m stuck waiting for an elevator or waiting on a subway platform, I can break out my notebook and jot down a few sentences.
Even with all this time-theft going on, I also try to carve out a few small chunks of time when I do writing “sprints.” In DIY MFA, I’ve asked participants to do at least one sprint per week on Saturdays, but for me these sprints happen whenever I manage to steal a chunk of time long enough that I can call it honest-to-goodness solid writing time. During these precious moments, I’ll practice some stealth writing, where I run to a coffee shop and hide out while I write. Not only am I more efficient if I know I only have a short span of time to write, but the stealth aspect also makes it more exciting (like I’m doing something I shouldn’t… something naughty).
And don’t underestimate the power of the Pomodoro. That adorable little tomato timer app that sits on my desktop has worked wonders for me. If I know I only have 25 minutes to write, I won’t stop to check email or twitter or anything else, I’ll just write. After I’ve finished a couple of rounds of Pomodoro, I’ll treat myself to a short spurt of internet fiddling.
What’s your best advice for someone who’s trying to make writing a priority (again)?
I’m a huge believer in baby steps and I’m not a fan of huge, unmanageable goals because they set writers up to fail. Missing a goal can lead to feelings of “I can’t do this” or “I’m not good enough” which only leads to paralysis, writer’s block and loss of motivation. Of course, lower motivation means the next set of goals becomes even more unmanageable so the cycle just continues. The trick is to break the cycle of negativity and find ways of sparking the motivation when it starts slipping away.
For me, writing isn’t about success vs. failure; it’s about doing. If a writing challenge helps a writer motivate themselves and stay on track, fantastic! But the important thing in my mind is that writers do the work, whether it means meeting a goal within a certain time frame or not. That’s where I think Story-A-Day gets it right: because it’s not just about writing a story every day, it’s about bouncing back on the days when you can’t actually get a story done. It’s about getting ideas down quickly, without judging. It’s about writing it and moving on, leaving the tweaks and edits for some later point.
Ultimately, I think StADa and DIY MFA have similar goals: to help writers rekindle their love of writing and help them develop a sustainable, enriching writing life.
A 6-part journey through the short story.
Starts July 28, 2023