MFA in Creative Writing : How to design your own

I'm currently a student at Tabor College's Creative Writing programme. I've found it interesting and fascinating to be studying a subject that I'm passionate about and to be surrounded by people in love with the same subject and to be mentored by wonderful writers. However, although I found my MFA experience enriching, I felt that it wasn't a whole meal, so to speak. I needed vitamin supplementation. That's not to say that it sucked. The programme made me go where I wouldn't naturally go (writing young adult, for one) and forced me to produce on demand. I will definitely complete the programme (because I'm a damn completist and I see value in the programme) but am currently supplementing it with a programme I've designed for myself.

Step 1: Finding the gaps in my knowledge

In order to build my personal Creative writing MFA curriculum, I had to know what I needed to learn. I discovered that while I have completed two novels and several novellas, I did not know:

My writing process

I was a "throw something at the wall and hope it'll stick" kind of writer. I was a pantser, or so I thought. What really happened was that I did a lot of outlining in my head, which is why there were huge gaps in time between writing chapters. It was time-consuming and not very reliable, and worse, I often wrote stories that had no endings. What's my best time to write? Where do I write best? What motivates me to write? What inspires me? These are some of the questions I had to ask myself.

How to write on schedule or at a reliable pace.

I was superb at meeting deadlines as a journalist. But as a fiction writer, my readers often had to wait too long for new chapters to appear. (I started posting my stories chapter by chapter online since 2000.) I pissed off a few readers when I abandoned stories too! If you want to be a pro, this ain't the way to behave.

I didn't know how to conceptualise stories

I started out writing fanfic, where the conceptualising was already done for me. This meant that while I was good at plotting, writing distinctive characters, good dialogue and writing in a way that left readers wanting more, I didn't know how to come up with characters or to build a world. When I started learning this particular skill, I was blown away by the amount of work involved. I had a lot to learn. A LOT.

I didn't know how to market myself or my stories

Unfortunately, if you want to make it as an indie writer, you need to do some kind of marketing. It's not my favourite subject, and I'm a grub worm in the evolution cycle, but I'm heading to the pupae stage at least.

The psychology of the writer

When I started the journey to really dig deep into writing fiction, I was amazed (and maybe a even a little alarmed) that my state of mind played such an important role in my writing. What you tell yourself is so important. Who you listen to is also vital. Lawd, even how you treat your body is of importance. The last three years has been like a drawn-out therapy session, but I've learned so much about myself in the process.

The indie digital writer's ebook production

I had to learn how to format my e-book, design covers and upload my ebook to ebook distributors such as Amazon and Smashwords. I also learned to source for cover artists, editors and beta readers.

Once you've discovered the gaps in your knowledge, the next step is to find study materials or courses to help you fill that gap.

Picture by Robinsonma.