Interview with DIY MFA author Gabriela Pereira

Have you been enjoying our Author Takeover interviews and giveaways this summer?! Today, we have a special BONUS interview with Gabriela Pereira, author of the new book DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build Your CommunityIf you're a writer, this post is for you!

First, here's Gabriela's official bio:

Gabriela Pereira is the Instigator of DIY MFA, the do-it-yourself alternative to a Masters degree in writing. She earned an MFA from The New School and has helped hundreds of writers get the MFA experience without going to school. She teaches writing via conferences, workshops, and online courses and also hosts the podcast DIY MFA Radio.

When she’s not teaching or developing new courses, Gabriela enjoys writing middle grade and teen fiction, with a few "short stories for grown-ups" thrown in for good measure. Her book DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build Your Community is out now from Writer’s Digest Books.

I was super excited to interview Gabriela because we go way back - all the way to when we were both getting our MFA in Writing for Children from the New School. Gabriela and I became fast friends, and as we exchanged our work with one another, she also became my go-to person for when I had a writing dilemma. See, Gabriela is really creative and inventive, and she always had unique techniques up her sleeve for outlining, plotting, revisions... She was good at figuring out new ways to tackle the tough parts of writing. And now, through her business, podcast, and new book, she's able to share those tips with tons of writers. I couldn't be prouder!

On to the interview!

G. Myrthil/Curly McGee: Where is your favorite place for writing?

Gabriela Pereira: It depends on what I am working on. For blog posts, podcast prep, course materials, and other DIY MFA content, I work mostly in my home office. When writing the DIY MFA book, though, I found working at home too distracting. Instead, I got into a routine of walking my son to preschool, then camping out at a coffeeshop around the corner until it was time to pick him up. The limited block of time forced me to concentrate and get those words on the page.

GM/CM: Do you have any quirks or writing rituals?

GP: I’ve tried lots of different rituals and honestly the only thing that seems to work for me is B.I.C. (bottom in chair). It’s getting my bottom into the chair in the first place that can sometimes be a challenge. I’ve found that if I keep my momentum going, writing is a lot easier than trying to psych myself up from zero.

For instance, if I have to drag myself out of the house to write, I end up stalling and before I know it, I’ve flitted away several hours checking email and doing other administrative tasks. But if I’m out of the house already (like taking my son to school) then sitting down to write is a no-brainer.

My only real ritual is that I have a work playlist and while the songs on that list change over time, I always start with the same song: “Everything Is Awesome” from the Lego Movie, which is kind of my theme song right now.

Also, I want to add that every writer has to find her own way. I firmly believe that the only “best practice” is the one that works best for that particular writer. What works for me might not work for someone else, and that’s OK. In fact, that’s awesome! The key is testing different things until you find the right one for you.

GM/CM: Where do you look for inspiration?

GP: Everything. Museums, music, old movies, you name it. I’m pretty obsessed with Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Donen films. I’m also really into theme parks and experiential design. Like, when hubby and I went to Las Vegas I was the weirdo taking photos of door handles and light fixtures instead of going to casinos or shows. I love seeing how design can shape the way people experience a place and I see writing as just another type of design, only you’re creating an experience though story.

GM/CM: DIY MFA started as a blog. How did you balance blogging and writing the book?

GP: These days the DIY MFA website has grown to the point that most of the written posts are either from regular columnists or guest writers. The editorial calendar for written content is almost entirely in the hands of the DIY MFA web editor, the super-talented Bess Cozby. (I like to joke that these days even I don’t hit the “publish” button on DIY MFA posts without her say-so.)

The two places where my voice still shines through and is all me is the newsletter and the podcast. Every so often, when there’s something I really need to say, I’ll write a post on the site, but mostly at this point I focus on the podcast and the newsletter. I think the diversity of voices and experiences from members of the DIY MFA team is one if our strengths so I love that the blog can be a shared space to spotlight these amazing people who are part of this journey with me.

For the podcast, I plan and pre-record episodes months in advance, especially the interviews. For the newsletter, my process is completely opposite. I try to send out an email every week or two, but there’s no rigid schedule and I’m much more inspiration-driven in my choice of topic. I think this approach gives me a nice balance between pre-planned materials that keep me grounded, and more spontaneous outbursts of creativity.

GM/CM: Do you have a day job?

GP: I’m so thrilled to say that DIY MFA is my full-time job. This all started as series of blog posts back in 2010 and has now grown into a full-time job and a vocation that I love. For that I am truly grateful.

But, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that running your own business is a lot of work. Right now it feels more like a 24-hour-a-day job than a day-job, and it doesn’t leave much time for outside writing. Most of this year will focus on speaking at conferences and promoting the DIY MFA book, but my goal for 2017 is to to dedicate more time to my fiction writing, in particular YA and middle grade novels.

GM/CM: What advice would you give yourself when you first started DIY MFA?

GP: I used to obsess about this idea: what would I tell myself “back then” so that I could avoid certain setbacks or speed up some breakthroughs? Now I realize that this doesn’t really matter. In fact, any advice I would give myself early in my creative life would have been counterproductive.

The reality is, all those moments of fumbling and figuring things out are what brought me to where I am today. If I had any of my “now” insights when I started, then I would never have taken the journey that finally brought me here.

I’ve learned that nothing is ever wasted when it comes to creativity. I try my best to trust in this, though it can be super-hard sometimes (like when facing criticism, rejection, or other setbacks). I just keep reminding myself that these challenges are all steps taking me where I need to go.

GM/CM: How did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?

GP: I started writing in first grade. It started one day at the elementary school library, when realized that I could read all the books, even ones for “the big kids.” Most kids might have been thrilled, but I freaked out.

You see, in my first grade logic I thought the books in that library were all the books *in the world* and if I read them all, then run out of things to read and I would be bored forever. That’s when my teacher came up with the idea that I could write the stories I wanted to read. If I kept writing books, then I would never run out of books. This made total sense to first-grade-me.

That was the moment I became a writer, and the rest, as they say, is history.

GM/CM: Many writers struggle with finding time to write. How do you find time for writing?

GP: I like to write in the morning, but I don’t have a set schedule.  Whenever I can, I write before doing anything else, otherwise the distraction gremlins swoop in and take over my day.

Honestly, I have no idea how I find the time. On days when I’m super-busy, I’ll somehow still manage to squeeze some creative work into my schedule. But then other days when I’ve got long blocks of time for writing, I never get as much done as I would like. There’s this thing that totally baffles me: the more time I have, the less productive I am with it. It’s like that saying “if you want something done, ask a busy person.”

I’ve learned that if I write first and clock in that creative time, somehow all my other obligations still get done. But if I sit around waiting for the “right time,” then it’s over and nothing gets done.

GM/CM: Do you keep a journal?

GP: I’m a huge fan of paper notebooks and pen, especially for fiction. I don’t keep a journal per se, at least not anymore. Instead, I have a notebook I call my “Brain Book” where I doodle and work out ideas. It’s a safe space where I can think on paper.

Of course, I keep a mini notebook with me at all times, for random sparks of creativity that happen on the go, but it’s not my go-to. The Brain Book is where I record and work out all of my creative projects. It also doubles as a mini office on-the-go with little creative totems and other things that help me feel more at home even when I’m writing out and about.

I did a podcast episode a while ago where I talk about what the Brain Book actually is (here’s the link in case you’re curious:

GM/CM: If you could recommend one book that has inspired you or helped you grow as a writer, what would it be?

GP: There are so many books that I love, so it’s hard to choose just one. I’m a huge fan of Julia Cameron’s Vein of Gold, which is a little less famous than her Artist’s Way books, but in my opinion far more profound. I love prompt books like Brian Kiteley’s The 3AM Epiphany and the Now Write! series edited by Sherry Ellis. And, of course, I love going back to the masters and reading short stories, poems, and essays. A lot of books have influenced and inspired my writing, but I guess that’s how it is for most writers, right? You take in a lot of different words and ideas, let it all shake around in your brain for a while, then pour it back on the page with pen and ink.

GM/CM: What are your favorite writing tools?

GP: For book-length work, I use Scrivener. For blog posts and short pieces, I used to use Microsoft Word or Evernote, but now Ulysses is my go-to because it saves to iCould and synchs across computers and devices. I’m a total Mac geek or “iPerson,” alternating between MacBook, an iPad, and my iPhone, so I love apps that synch across them all. My favorite productivity apps are Pomodoro (for focused writing sprints), Todoist (for organizing projects and tasks), and Human (for making sure I get up and move instead of sitting at the computer all day).

A HUGE thank you to Gabriela for joining us here on the YA Buccaneers. 

For more about Gabriela and DIY MFA, check out the below links. And buy her book at your local bookstore!

DIY MFA website | Podcast | Book | Twitter