Five Reasons Why The DIY MFA Book Is a Must-Read for Writers

DIY MFA Book Review header

While I love a good book on the craft of writing, I wouldn’t normally say that such a book would be one of my most anticipated reads of the year. Gabriela Pereira’s DIY MFA, however, is a exception – and perhaps biasedly so. I’ve been a staff writer at DIY MFA’s website since November 2014. So, not only have I been eagerly awaiting the book’s release ever since Gabriela broke the news to us, but I also agree with her philosophy and the concepts she presents.

Last month, the DIY MFA Book was published last month by Writer’s Digest. I’ve had a chance to read it, and I’m thrilled to say it surpassed my expectations. Writing a review for a writing reference book, however, is different than writing one for fiction. I don’t want to spoil too many of the insights that Gabriela shares. Instead, I’ll give Five Reasons Why The DIY MFA Book Is a Must-Read for Writers. Then, if you like the sounds of it, you can fully immerse yourself in the DIY MFA learning experience. Ready?

Quick Disclaimer: Since I’m one of the staff writers for DIY MFA, it’s possible that my review may be biased. However, I purchased a copy of the DIY MFA Book, so I’m writing this review not because I’m expected to, but because I want to – and I believe so many writers out there will enjoy the book as well.

Reason #1: It’s a Great Representation of DIY MFA’s Core Concepts

The DIY MFA Book presents the three core concepts that Gabriela emphasizes at the website and in her webinars and conference presentations:

  1. Write with Focus, where Gabriela goes over the mechanics of writing, from story structure to point of view, as well as revisions, brainstorming, and character development.
  2. Read with Purpose, which discusses how to read like a writer and why it’s important to understand our responses to what we read.
  3. Build Your Community, which touches on networking aspects, including literary conferences, writing workshops, critiquing / beta-reading, and submitting your work.

With so much to cover, you’d think it would be easy to lose focus on each section’s intent. Gabriela, however, nails it time and again. She delivers her tips concisely, with strong examples and clear explanations. Her unique writing voice and creative graphics (more on both shortly) also makes the DIY MFA Book engaging as well as informative.

And, if you’re following the Character Evolution Files here at the blog, the DIY MFA Book offers insights on story structure and character choices that fit seamlessly with the Journey Through the Character Arc posts. So, heads-up if you’re looking for more reference books with that kind of information. 😉

Reason #2: It Empowers Writers Without Denouncing the MFA Experience

In the book, Gabriela admits she created DIY MFA because of her dissatisfaction with traditional MFA systems. However, she makes it clear that MFA programs do work for some writers, and can be incredibly rewarding for those who want to pursue literary fiction, poetry, or creative nonfiction. She also highlights her gratitude for several teachers she worked with during her MFA pursuit.

Despite her feelings about her experience, Gabriela never bashes the MFA system. Her attitude when discussing it is honest yet professional. This naturally leads into the main reason why she created DIY MFA: to offer an alternative to a traditional MFA program. This approach also suits the books’ overall tone. Each section is written in an educational yet practical and encouraging manner, aiming to show respect to her readers and give them the knowledge and tools to help them succeed.

Reason #3: The Branding is Perfect, and the Graphics and Overall Presentation Are Gorgeous!

One of the first things I noticed about the DIY MFA Book was its appearance. It draws from the branding on the website, worksheets, webinars – everything having to do with DIY MFA’s online presence. Even the pen icons, color scheme, and chapter title / heading fonts match the site’s! These are minor details compared to the meat of the content. But not only is this level of continuity visually stunning, but also it also solidifies DIY MFA’s brand and allows readers to identify and remember it easily.

Also, after reading Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook last year, I have an affinity for charts, images, and other graphics that accentuate the written content. The DIY MFA Book has plenty of its own. From the Character Compass to the Ending Matrix, these fun extras illustrate specific ideas so they’re easy to understand. You’ll also find sidebars that feature brainstorming activities, ask questions that prompt the reader to think critically about their process, and build further on the core concepts.

Reason #4: Beginning and Experienced Writers Alike Can Benefit From Its Wisdom

Some topics are geared toward writers who are still learning the nuts and bolts of their craft. However, writers who are further along in their process will also find plenty to glean. For example, now that I’m editing my WIP, I was most interested in topics that I’m either currently working on (Establish Your Circle of Trust, Create Your Author Identity, Network Like a Pro) or are upcoming steps in my journey (Work That Workshop, Submit Your Work). The critiquing chapter was especially helpful, with advice on how to make the most out of feedback you receive on your work.

Also, the DIY MFA Book gives advice on two subjects that all writers struggle with: motivation and rejection. Gabriela’s suggestions are intended to help even the most discouraged writer take control of their fears and protect their writing time while honoring their unique circumstances. And since both chapters appear early on, they’re instrumental in setting the book’s honest, empowering tone.

Reason #5: Gabriela’s Writing Is a Joy to Read

If you’ve read Gabriela’s DIY MFA posts or newsletters, listened to her podcasts, or attended her presentations or webinars, then you’re familiar with her writing and speaking style. It’s honest, intelligent, enthusiastic, and witty; and as Gabriela confesses in the DIY MFA Book, she uses millennial slang when she’s excited and repeatedly gives examples from Pride and PrejudiceThe Hunger Games, and the Harry Potter series. Why? Because that’s who she is as a person, and those quirks and qualities imbue into her writing.

The DIY MFA Book is no different. It remains focused and instructive on the topic at hand, but delivers that information with clarity, crispness, and sparkling personality. You’ll feel as though Gabriela is right there, coaching you one on one and building your confidence so you can write that book / short story / etc. This alone makes the DIY MFA Book one of the most engaging print resources on the craft of writing I’ve ever read, and one of the biggest reasons why I recommend it.

Other Reviews on the DIY MFA Book

Curious to know what other bloggers thought of the DIY MFA Book? Check out their reviews here:

Lastly, if you’re curious about what Gabriela learned while working on the DIY MFA Book, you might enjoy her recent #5onFri post at DIY MFA.

Have you read the DIY MFA Book? Are you planning to read it in the future? Also, have you ever considered pursuing an MFA? What helped you decide one way or the other? If you didn’t pursue it, how have you learned more about writing, reading, or community-building on your own time?

28 thoughts on “Five Reasons Why The DIY MFA Book Is a Must-Read for Writers

  1. This looks like a great book… and how cool to be a staff writer over there and have the book get noticed by Writer’s Digest! That phenomenal. 🙂 It sounds like only one writer’s works are published inside, but it seems like it has a great breadth of knowledge for anyone out there. I appreciate that DIY MFA doesn’t bash traditional ways of doing things. There’s more to be discovered with both sides not hating on each other, haha. Great review, Sara!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Alex! And you’re right. The book was written solely by Gabriela, who’s the founder of DIY MFA. Her site has grown into its own business now, so most of the blogging work is now done by the staff (me and several other writers) with occasional posts from Gabriela, since she’s got a lot of other things on her plate now (speaking engagements, webinars, etc.).

      Liked by 1 person

    • It really is, E. I can’t recommend it enough. 😉

      If I remember Gabriela’s story correctly… she actually pitched the idea at a Writer’s Digest Conference Pitch Slam about 4 years ago. That’s where she found the man who’s now her agent, and WD is one of the most well-known (and quite frankly, one of the best) publishers for craft-of-writing books.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I read this article and knew I just had to see if it was available in India. So glad that it is! 😀 At a very reasonable price too, since the online course was beyond my reach. One of my blogging friends just announced that she would be writing a novel and this pushed me to think of my own that I had promised myself I’d write at the start of the year. I’m thinking about picking up this book and making that announcement as well (or at least I dream about it). A very convincing post, I must say. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • It is??? 😀 😀 😀 And the timing of its posting was a huge coincidence. It went live the day I traveled to Writer’s Digest Conference and saw Gabriela and other members of the DIY MFA team. 🙂

      Ohhhhhh, you should be writing that book, Nandini! Make good on that promise – or else I will hold you accountable for it. 😉

      Anyways, I’m glad you enjoyed the review, and I hope you learn lots from the book when you read it for yourself!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I just finished ordering it. 🙂 I think I’ll take a little more time to actually get started on the novel though. August is more hectic than I’d imagined, so I think I’ll make an announcement next month.
        I could definitely use a little discipline in the form of accountability. I’ve made promises like this before and not kept them, but declaring it in a public forum might just be the thing to give me that motivation I need. Thanks for the offer! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yay! 😀 And I completely understand about waiting to get started or announcing anything. Best to do it when you have more time available.

        YES. If more people know you’re writing a story, they’ll cheer you on, encourage you when you’re down, and ask you how it’s coming along. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve always started out and given up halfway, so I want to sketch out a plan before I begin and then announce. I don’t want to make long-term commitments I can’t keep and disappoint my readers. I will probably need a lot of cheering to see this one through!
        Thank you! You’ve always been encouraging and I can’t tell you how much I value your words. 🙂 I love following your updates on TKC and hope to keep mine when I start on my WIP just as interesting and engaging.

        Liked by 1 person

      • “I don’t want to make long-term commitments I can’t keep and disappoint my readers. I will probably need a lot of cheering to see this one through!”

        That’s what I and other writers are here for. 😉

        Awwwwwww, thank you, Nandini. *hugs* Sometimes I wonder I’m being too geeky or if I should be blogging about other things. But I’m glad you and other readers enjoy it and keep coming back here. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      • *hugs back* In grateful to you and everybody else who constantly come back to read what I write. A year ago I probably wouldn’t have considered making such a big announcement.
        I’m sure all writers understand that a WIP is as precious as a child. You can’t help but talk about it. The reason I come back to read them is that the tidbits you share make me all the more excited about your book and gives an insight into your writing process, which is very organised and methodical.

        Liked by 1 person

      • The idea for my novel is currently scattered in different parts of my brain, so I feel I’m not one bit organized. Looking at your Character Evolution Files or Beautiful People series makes me wish I had such a clear vision. I can’t remember the title of the post, but you did put up something on how to adjust a writing schedule in response to real life events, which gave me the feeling that you approached writing very methodically. You’ve accomplished a lot over a small span of time, so you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself. 🙂


  3. I can’t wait to read this! It sounds fabulous. I love the site already, but I always prefer a book in hand to reading stuff on a screen, lol.

    Nice review, and it sounds like your bias is perfectly justifiable.

    Liked by 1 person

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