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DIY-MFA Part 6. The Final Project.

Updated: Apr 13

Image: Enjoy your 'graduation'. Now the real work begins! (Image: Google freestock)


This is the final instalment in my DIY-MFA. Over this six-part series, I have provided a template for you to study the equivalent of an MFA (Master of Fine Arts). As previously discussed, this should be tailored to your needs. You can also organise it in such a way that it meets your time objectives too. We all have busy lives and the last thing we need to impose on ourselves is another demanding deadline. I have presented the steps to the DIY-MFA to you over the last few months. In reality, the program should occupy you for at least a year.


To summarise:


  • Part 1. Why you should consider a DIY-MFA (1 week)

  • Part 2. Compiling your reading list (1 month)

  • Part 3. Developing Your Critical Eye (3 months)

  • Part 4. Engaging with your Community (3 months)

  • Part 5. Navigating the Publishing Industry and Literary Criticism (6 months)

In this step the objective is to synthesize your learning and clarify your insights into a significant final project. This could take the form of a thesis, a novel, a collection of short stories or poems, or an essay collection. This is not to say that it will be easy.


It is not necessary to assume that you must complete each task within the suggestions listed above. It is often said ‘the first step on any journey is the hardest.’ If you’ve been following my template from Part 1 you have already taken the first step, but now things get serious. It is fine to be doing this program for fun, but why not step up in this final stage and take what (I hope) you have learnt and craft it into something worthwhile, something tangible, your lasting literary legacy?


Image: Now you have the steppingstones. (Source: Adobe freestock).


In the opening paragraph of Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing’ (1) he claims his book (considered by many to be essential reading for the aspiring writer) is short, “because most books on writing are bullshit.” He claims that writers, many who are considered masters of their craft work a type of magic. Even they don’t know how they carry out the process. What I hope I have done in this short DIY-MFA series is lay out a framework on which you can overlay your magic to craft a writing legacy that you are proud of.


Image: Stephen King and Margaret Attwood at a PEN International event. (Source: PEN)


Don’t kid yourself that writing is easy. Sure, almost everyone can write, but how many write something that somebody else wants to read? Years ago, I heard someone describe the relationship between a writer and a reader as a contract. The contract is a mutual obligation. The reader provides his/her time to the writer and the writer is obligated to ensure that the reader receives value (enjoyment, enlightenment or lingering emotional response) from the writer. Both reader and writer are party to the contract.


Image: The provocative art of Banksy. (Source: Google).


Kofman’s book (2) has similarities to King’s, they both are attempts to describe the craft of writing wrapped within their memoir. Both are recommended reading. Kofman though, almost deters anyone from considering writing in her chapter entitled ‘Where Writing Springs From’ by admitting wishing she had considered becoming a chef instead. Writing for Kofman is both a blessing and a curse. Despite continual feelings of doubt Kofman, like many of us I imagine, can’t conceive not writing. She finishes her book with four tenets:


1.      To write is to read

2.      All writing is rewriting

3.      Write what is urgent

4.      Write what makes you blush


As tenets go these aren’t too bad. I would however modify the fourth tenet. I feel this tenet is frequently abused. I feel it would be better stated, or at least more aligned with my thinking if it were tempered by a quote from the enigmatic artist Banksy, “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” Writing should, in my opinion, make the reader think. It should challenge commonly held beliefs and re-program the minds of automatons stuck in the tedious rut of unchallenged popular thinking. Thus, rather than writing, what makes you blush re-craft Kofman’s fourth tenet to ‘Write what challenges your reader.’ What do you think? Be bold. Don’t underestimate the intelligence of your reader, but don’t leave them with the same preconceived ideas that they had when they started to read your work. You’ve hardly kept up your part of the contract with the reader if their investment of time hasn’t moved them.


So, now we’ve come to this point how do you decide what to write? Rittenberg and her colleagues (3) step us through this process. First up is deciding what genre you intend to write in. A common mistake made by many novice authors, is to describe their work ‘cutting across multiple genres’ or worse ‘defining a completely new genre’. If you want to attract readers (or publishers) to your book you will need to let them know what genre it comes from. Rittenberg describes sixteen fundamental genres, but there are probably more. Pick which is your target and move to the next challenge.


Plotters v Pantsers

Plotter" and "pantser" are two terms commonly used in the writing community to describe two diametrically opposed approaches to the writing process. The reality is that no one is likely to be 100 percent one or the other. To assist you with deciding in which camp you best fit let me describe them.


Image: I'm not sure if even the most ardent plotters go to this level (Source: AI image)


A plotter is a writer who plans their story before they begin writing. They create detailed outlines, character profiles, and plot arcs before they even start drafting the manuscript. Plotters typically know the beginning, middle, and end of their story before they write a single word. They might create chapter summaries, detailed character descriptions or scene-by-scene breakdowns to guide their writing process. Plotters prefer structure and organisation, and they believe that outlining helps them stay focused and avoid going down rabbit holes.


Image: A trip down a rabbit hole could lead you anywhere. (Image: Google freestock)


A pantser on the other hand, is a writer who prefers to "fly by the seat of their pants" when writing. Pantsers typically start with a vague idea or concept and then dive straight into writing without much planning or outlining. They allow the story to unfold organically as they write, often discovering plot twists and character developments along the way.


Pantsers enjoy the spontaneity and creativity that comes with not having a plan, and they believe that it allows their stories to develop more creatively. They may find outlining to be too restrictive and prefer the freedom to let their imagination guide them as they write. I’ve heard one pantser say that she prefers it that way as she’d get bored with the writing if she knew how the story ends!


Both approaches have their pros and cons, and many writers fall somewhere along the Plotter v Pantser spectrum. Some writers might even switch between the two approaches depending on the project they're working on or where they are in the writing process. Ultimately, whether you're a plotter or a pantser, the most important thing is finding a writing method that works for you and helps you bring your creative vision to life.


I think my science background means that I am closer aligned to the plotter camp. For you, it is important to commence this project with at least a feeling of which camp you fall in. My fear is that if I don’t start with at least some vague map showing where I intend to end up, I’m likely to procrastinate excessively. Perhaps writer’s block is just a pause that pantsers experience while they are waiting for the writing to catch up with where they are in their minds.


Graeme Simsion the author of the best-selling Rosie trilogy sits firmly in the Plotter camp. In his book ‘The Novel Project’ (4) he generously sets out a path that writers can follow to end up with ‘your novel, a memoir or a biography’. For him, plotting is the only way to go.

If you are a plotter there a plenty of tools that will help you with this process. This includes a low-cost white board or index cards. You don’t even have to purchase index cards, just put your chapter summary on a single sheet of paper, so that you can shuffle them into the correct order when you like. Plotters also love software-based tools. I have plotted works using slides in MS PowerPoint. This allows you to move around the chapter outlines easily and add images and references and notes. Others swear by the use of tools such as Scrivener, Final Draft, yWriter, or Ulysses. If you feel one of these writing tools might provide your work some assistance, give it a try, most of them have free trial periods during which you can see if it feels right for you. You can also hear other writer’s views on these tools via YouTube. I write in MS Word, perhaps I am too impatient to learn another system.


Now that you have your genre, your method (plotter or pantser) and your tools sorted all you need now is a worthy idea. This part is easy if you say it quickly. Perhaps you already have the idea for your work. I am hoping that the time you spent reading your complied list as Part 2 of this DIY-MFA exercise might have given you some ideas. You needn’t feel that you have to write like the writers that you have read in part 2, but you might have found some inspiration.


Writing is easy. You only need to stare at a blank piece of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead”. This is a quote from the talented American journalist and author Gene Fowler (1890-1960). As he is also attributed with “The best way to become a successful writer is to read good writing, remember it, and then forget where you remember it from," he might have agreed with my intent of Part 2.


Image: Inspiration can come from almost anywhere, even while wearing a top hap in a bubble bath sipping Champagne. (Image: from the movie Arthur).


Rather than waiting for blood to flow from your forehead, ideas for your great work can come from many places. Simsion advises that the concept for your work is so critically important that you want to put a great deal of your creative energy into it before you launch onto the page. Once you have the concept, sit on it. He theorises that many debut novels far outshine the author's subsequent attempts because the author has mulled over the concept for their first work for longer than he/she has been afforded on follow-up works. I am sure the theory holds true for debut albums too.


The wonderfully generous Georgia Richter in the book that she has written with Deborah Hunn (5) delves into the murky waters of idea generation too and devotes the best part of a chapter to this very topic. Quotes from Natasha Lester and poet Caitlin Maling suggest careful observations from the world around you are rich sources of inspiration waiting to be tapped. The art of finding interest in the everyday is the ultimate quest for a real author.


I hope you have found my six-part series on a creative journey interesting. All the best with your journey. I’d love to know where it takes you.


Image: Enjoy your wring journey (Source: AI image)


References:

1.      King, S. “On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft.’ Hodder 2012

2.      Kofman, L. ‘The Writer Laid Bare -Mastering Emotional Honesty in a Writer’s Art, Craft and Life.’ Simon and Schuster. 2022.

3.      Rittenberg, A., Whitcomb, L., and Goldin C. ‘Your First Novel.’ Writer’s Digest. 2018.

4.      Simison, G. ‘The Novel Project. A Step-by-Step Guide to Your Novel, Memoir or Biography.’ The Text Publishing Company. 2002.

5.      Richter, G. and Hunn, D. ‘How to be an Author – The Business of Being a Writer ion Australia.’ Fremantle Press. 2021

 

 

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