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Part 4. DIY-MFA. Engaging with Your Community.



Image: I am sure you will find the writing community welcoming and constructive. (Source: Tough Guy book club)


There are stories of first-time writers who burst on to the scene with a bestselling debut novel. The myth might be based on some reality, but more often the path to a novel is a much harder slog. I don’t believe every writer needs to come from the perspective of ‘I knew I was destined to write from the age of five or six’ but the journey is rarely short. It is never too late to start. It is said the best time to start any journey is yesterday and the second-best time is today.



Image: Be brave- the first step is the most important of any journey. (Source: Pete Mitchell, Whitfords Nodes Caostal path)


There are steps that you can take to make the effectiveness of that journey more likely to result in success. This is part four of the DIY-MFA journey. If you haven’t read the first three parts you might wish to go back and do so.

This part of the DIY-MFA is about engaging with the writing community. In many communities or groups, the pretense is that there is a limited commodity or market and that including an additional member to that community diminishes the market. In other words, it’s as if the market is a chocolate cake and giving any additional person a slice decreases the share for the existing members of the group. This is not my experience in the writing community. In this case rather than fighting over a cake of a finite size, everybody is welcomed in and the cake gets bigger. There is plenty for everyone.



Image: Writers don't get suckered into sharing progressively smaller slices - they simply get a bigger cake (Source: Decadent cakes)


Not only will you be welcomed into the writing community, but the benefits of participating in such a tribe, far outweigh anything that solitude or exclusion might offer. Note I’ve used the word tribe decidedly. People aren’t solitary animals. They instinctively for groups of tribes. “A tribe is a group of people connected to one another …and to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.” (1)


Remember this is a DIY-MFA and you won’t have the benefit of developing relationship with peers that the traditional university route enables. The benefits that you enjoyed so far need to be counterbalanced by taking a proactive stance on building a networking, developing a presence in the writing community. That is, finding your tribe.

You can find your tribe by:

1. Participating in online forums. There are so many to choose from when you start to look. Select those on the basis of your desired genre and also by how active they are. Don’t be afraid to comment on these forums. More often than not your question or comment will be similar to what someone else is thinking.

2. Book clubs. An obvious one really. Here too there are plenty of different choices. Find one that is right (write) for you. If you get really stuck start one of your own. The Australian Society of Authors website ‘Australia Reads’ has a great article (2) on how to start and run a book club, complete with printable guide notes on getting started. Australia Reads’ mission is to get more people reading more books, more often, so you could see involvement as an investment in YOUR writing future.

There is even a movement to encourage more men to read, via books in bars (aka Books in Pubs). Combining a drink, a good book and friendly company sounds good to me.


Image: A book and a beer - Tough Guy Book Club, Newcastle (Source: Google)


3. Share your work with peers or through online communities for feedback and criticism. This might seem like a brave step, but have a go, the worst thing that could happen is you get some creative feedback. It is also a good exercise to develop the attribute that all writers need – a thick skin. If you’re going to get out there you’ve got to build up your resilience. If someone doesn’t like the work that you’ve poured your soul into, accept that it is their reality, not yours and move on. If everyone liked the one author, why would we need another one?

4. Get to some writing events. Check out your library and bookshops – they often have events such as book launches or special releases. Authors love a crowd at their book launches. You might even score a glass of bubbly in the process. I can guarantee you’ll be welcomed and embraced by the writing community. If you do get that bubbly consider buying the authors book as payment and support for someone that is on the same journey, but perhaps a little further along.

5. Enroll in creative Writing Workshops. There are plenty of on-line and in-person workshops, classes and lectures that you can attend without breaking the bank. Have a look at the following options:

a. Reedsy (https://reedsy.com)is essentially a hybrid publisher where aspiring authors are assisted to publication. While I am not endorsing the company overall (as I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of them is this regard), they offer a huge number of YouTube lectures, free lectures and forums. Any lecture by Shaelin Bishop, a Canadian writer and academic, will be worth your time.


Image: One of the free classes offered by Reedsy (Source: Reedsy)


b. Australian Writing Centre (https://www.writerscentre.com.au). This is a great resource for the writer on a learning journey. They offer list of courses and a blog full of useful pragmatic advice. As the name indicates they are Australian, so the tips fit the Aussie environment. They also run ‘Furious Fiction’ a free to enter monthly opportunity to submit a 500-word short story aligned with provided themes which is a great fun way to hone some skills. The winner takes of $500 too.

c. Masterclass (https://www.masterclass.com). This a little costly (starting at $15/month) but it covers a whole spectrum of learning opportunities (they claim 200 classes) so you might want to share it with someone else in your household. The classes are not all wring focused however there are plenty that are. The magic is that you get a real insight into the writing process by stellar performers. Dan Brown, Judy Blume, James Patterson, Margret Attwood, Salman Rushdie and others.  Each class has multiple units and totals 3-4 hours.’


Image: Masterclass with Salman Rushdie (Source: Pinterest)


d. Kill Your Darlings is primarily a literary magazine, but it also run short courses. (https://www.killyourdarlings.com.au/). They cover all aspects of the publishing journey and many genres. These are mostly on-line and self-paced, perfect for the DIY-MFA-er.


  6. Writing Groups and Societies

There are an almost endless number of writing societies that you can join. I am a member of Writer’s Victoria (https://writersvictoria.org.au) and Writing WA (https://www.writingwa.org). These groups are all about writing, no surprise there. They offer opportunities to network with your community, courses and a calendar of events (free and discounted) that is worth the cost of joining itself. A web search will uncover a lot of other options for you to consider.


7. Literary Festivals.

The first literary festival I went to was ‘The York Writers Festival’. Check out my blog of March 2023 (https://www.petemitchell.com.au/post/hooray-for-writers-festivals) for my account of this. It was fabulous. There will be other literary festivals that occur in your area. If you are travelling check out the scene at your destination too. Some wonderful writer’s festivals in my part of the world include:

 

 

Image: A fabulous panel at the Perth Writers Festival, featuring (second from left to right) Sasha Wasley, Rachel Johns, Amal Awad and Natasha Lester. (Source: Pete Mitchell, Perth Writers Festival, Feb 24)


8.      Awards. You could also attend some awards. These may be associated with a festival or run separately. Most Australian states have Premier’s book awards. The public is often permitted (and indeed encouraged) to attend these at relatively low cost. They offer a great way to network with accomplished authors. You should take the initiative to understand why the nominee's and winners' works were selected. Consider purchasing a few of the works and adding them to your reading list.

 

9. Consider contributing articles or reviews to Australian literary journals or blogs to build your presence in the community. Check out my Jan 3 blog, ‘Six Rules for Getting Published in 2024’ (https://www.petemitchell.com.au/blog). This blog has a concise guide for you to consider. Write and submit short stories rather than waiting to complete your opus. Short stories are a great way to hone your skill without a huge commitment of time.



References:

 1.      Godin, S. “Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us.” Portfolio. 2008 https://www.amazon.com.au/Tribes-We-Need-You-Lead/dp/1591842336/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

2.      The Australian Society of Authors. “How to Start and Run a Book Club”. https://australiareads.org.au/news/how-to-start-and-run-a-book-club/ accessed 26/2/2024.

 

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