Part of Gabriela Pereira’s DIY MFA mindset that I wrote about here is to read with purpose. Because you are taking your education into your own hands, you must pick which books to read. Reading is so important to writing. Through reading you can discover what works and doesn’t work in stories, you can pick up tips from both old and new writers, and you can see what’s current in your genre. And while reading is important, your time as a writer is limited (you know, with writing books of your own on top of life) and you must learn that it’s okay to DNF a book.
DNF stands for “did not finish,” meaning you give up on reading a book. There are only so many hours in a day, and you should be using those hours to your benefit. Most writers start out as bookworms, and they feel obligated to finish each book they start out of respect for books themselves. But some books just aren’t going to resonate with you and you shouldn’t force yourself to read them.
In fact, doing so may be harmful. For me, reading books I didn’t resonate with ruined reading for me for many years. Growing up you couldn’t find me without a book in my hands, and I’d read a book a day if I could. But I just don’t like most books that are considered “classics,” i.e., the books you read in school. I had so much trouble relating to those stories that they made me hate reading for a long time. But after I graduated from college and had time to actually pick what I wanted to read again—everything YA—I fell back in love with reading. And I think that’s why the DIY MFA mindset works for me.
I usually only read the first chapter of books before deciding if I’m going to continue with reading it. I value my time and choose only to read books that will benefit me or entertain me. As Pereria states in DIY MFA, “Choosing to go the way of DNF is not a sign of weakness, and it doesn’t mean you are not smart enough to understand great literature. When you DNF a book, you are showing respect for your time and efforts. Life is short. Read with purpose” (177-78).
You don’t have to feel obligated to read everything you start. You don’t have to keep reading books that don’t resonate with you. It’s perfectly okay to stop reading a book and pick up something else that will be of a greater benefit to you.
I’ve been reading Gabriela Pereira’s wonderful book DIY MFA in which she outlines a do-it-yourself alternative to a traditional MFA program. I’ve chosen not to continue with my education with an MFA program. One reason is because of the cost, but I’ve greatly enjoyed pursuing continued education on my own through reading lots of books and would rather not go through the rigidity of another university program. DIY MFA has been a great alternative with being just a $20 book (which I got half off).
What I love most about this book is that Pereira approaches the DIY MFA like it is a startup business. She uses many terms and concepts throughout the book that relate to a startup business, and focuses on iteration. Iteration, in relation to writing, is when you take your process and test and improve it over time in order to become a more productive and better writer. The key is to take a step back and look at how your process works, and then make small adjustments accordingly.
A while back I wrote about how I had been struggling to stay motivated and had come up with a sticker reward system that was working well. And it did work well for a while, but then it stopped working for me.
Then, when I started reading DIY MFA and learned about iteration, I realized how I needed to step back and look at my writing process and make small changes to figure out what would work for me. I’ve since gone through three other versions of my sticker system, each of them being a different way for me to lay out my work week. I’ve used iteration to find the right total number of work hours and the right balance of writing and marketing and craft and reading hours, and I think I’ve finally landed on a system that works for me. And if I find that it’s still not working, I’ll use the process Pereira outlines in order to keep honing in on the best method for me.
I love the DIY MFA mindset because it’s all about finding what works for you as an individual. I highly recommend this book to every writer. It is full of advice on everything from writing with focus to reading with purpose to building a community, which are the main principles of an actual MFA. This book has been a great alternative to going back to school for me, and I can’t wait to finish reading it.