DIY MFA – you’ve got to check this out

Every year Writer’s Digest puts out an issue with the 101 Best Websites for Writers. Cited as one of the “Best of the Best” is the DIY MFA website.

I decided to go take a look at that website and Holy Cow! If you’re a writer who is working on a project then you should definitely check this one out.

WD’s description:

Offering a do-it-yourself alternative to a master’s degree in writing. DIY MFA provides all the tools you need to “write with focus, read with purpose and build your community” – ked by prolific teacher, speaker and writer Gabriela Pereira (author of the companion book DIY MFA, from WD books) via articles, classes and a podcast. The e-newsletter brings regular updates to your inbox with the friendly greeting “Hey there, Word Nerds!”

If you visit the website you’ll be asked for your email in order to get a writer’s Starter Pack which is filled with tools that are used in a free mini two-week course that will be delivered through email over the next two weeks. I understand that her book is considered a companion to the site, but it’s in no way required for anyone to use the information.

This website is a gift. It’s a way to learn (at no cost) and a way join a community of like people. Your tribe.

From what I’ve seen this is indeed a website filled with great and relevant information for writers. Truly worthy of the title of Best of the Best.

Do yourself a favor and check DIY MFA out.

 

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

The Power and Universality of Hopes and Dreams

Today, I want to share a piece I recently wrote as a column for my local paper. I was moved to share it here because of conversations I’ve been having as part of an online class I’m taking called “Get Your Scary Sh*t Done,” or GSSD for short. I didn’t write this thinking about writing in particular, but I believe it may ring true for anyone who has ever held a dream close, and that certainly includes many writers I know.

I hope you enjoy it and find some comfort in knowing that we are never alone in having great hopes … even if we keep them secret most of the time.

 

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··• )o( •··

Emerging from underneath the forest floor …

Even when we hide them from ourselves, burying them under the convenient detritus of our daily lives, our hopes and dreams never die. Like sentient seeds that believe, perhaps against all odds, they will eventually see the light of day, our dearest desires and most secret wishes nestle under the weight of Real Life. They are patient. They are constant. Despite the unremitting assault of endless responsibilities and obligations, they persist.

Hopes and dreams are a study in contradictions. On the one hand, they are as fragile as a whisper. Quiet and timid, they step from the shadows only now and again, mostly in the quiet moments of reflection that come upon us just before sleep or when we are staring absentmindedly out of the window. And yet, despite their outwardly retiring nature, our hopes and dreams hold great power over us.

They make us feel deeply vulnerable. Simply acknowledging their existence can send our minds careening into a dark maze of illogical-but-still-terrifying possibilities of ridicule, failure, and disappointment. To wish for something is to put yourself at risk of never having it — perhaps the epitome of the double-edged sword.

On the other hand, hopes and dreams have the ability to sustain us through great hardship. They drive us to achieve that which we once considered impossible. And they help us find purpose and meaning that might otherwise be lost in the swift-flowing river of time. Our lifelong hopes and dreams bring us home to ourselves by reminding us who we have been and always will be.

Everyone has hopes and dreams. While we often guard our most precious aspirations from the rest of the world, it is no secret that each of us carries some hidden longing in our heart. You and I may never speak our secrets to each other, but we know they are there. It is part of what makes us human.

Forgetting that each of us has our own hopes and dreams makes it dangerously easy to lose sight of someone else’s humanity, to lose touch with the connection created by the shared experience of living life in constant (if not always conscious) communion with our truest hungers.

Do not, for instance, look at an elderly person and turn a blind eye to the still-beating passions that lurk just beneath a protective veneer of apathy and resignation. Dreams are ageless. Do not look at those who are living hand to mouth, unable to pursue anything greater than survival, and think for a moment that their hopes and dreams are any less vibrant or real than your own. Dreams do not discriminate. Do not believe that just because people live halfway around the world (or have come from halfway around the world to live here), their dreams are that dissimilar from your own. Dreams know no boundaries.

Mostly, we all want the same things. Though the exact details exist on an endless spectrum of diversity and creativity, each of us wants safety and comfort for ourselves and our families. We want the chance to discover and fulfill our purpose. We want the opportunity to express ourselves without fear of retribution. We want the freedom to make our own choices. We want peace and prosperity. We want love.

Perhaps even more than the conversations and interactions we have in the so-called Real World, it is our secret dreams that bind us together. Sometimes the unsaid speaks volumes. Sometimes a whisper carries across time and space. And sometimes I imagine that, while they are waiting to emerge into the sunlight, our hopes and dreams stretch silent roots deep into the ground where they entwine with the roots of other dreams in the dark and fertile earth. Imagine the vastness of such a network, and the possibilities.

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. In addition to my bi-weekly weekday posts, you can also check out my Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy archives. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared online on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog. Prior to that, it was published in print as part of a column series for The Ipswich Chronicle, a publication of Gatehouse Media.

Photo Credit: amy20079 Flickr via Compfight cc

Personal Becomes Universal Through Research

Guest Post by Novelist Donna D. Vitucci

Book cover

Donna Vitucci’s new novel, Salt of Patriots, published on Earth Day 2017.

The answer to my question, How long does it take to write a book? is fifteen for the novelist Donna Vitucci, who has just published Salt of Patriots after fifteen years of research, writing and revision. In this guest post, Vitucci describes what motivated her – and kept her going.

Origin of Salt

At my mother’s wake in the summer of 1999, the reminiscences we’d heard through the years got dragged out and enlivened by re-telling. The time all Uncle Bobby’s hair fell out when he was working at Fernald. The spills and inherent danger of any other kind of factory, but Fernald was processing uranium. A different kind of plant, in the early atomic days, in the 1950s.

Fernald closed after dust collectors failed in the 1980s and leaks into the Miami Aquifer hit the press. A class action lawsuit helped shutter the plant and place it on the Superfund Cleanup List. A Public Information Center was established as an aspect of remediation activities—eureka! I’d write my family Fernald stories infused with true and accessible information.

Research

To write it, I needed to understand it, and I’m no scientist. I dashed daily to the Information Center, reading and trying to understand what Fernald workers did. What were their jobs? What might Uncle Bob have done once he clocked in for 2nd shift? What made his hair fall out?

I read The Atomizers, the Fernald company newsletter. I studied processes the Fernald scientists developed, and the chemistry and metallurgy that had men in various buildings turn out uranium ingots or rods. I sought the secrets and security, the rumors in the community, how everybody had a relative or friend who worked there, or lost their acreage, or got sick or died. Newspaper articles on microfiche announced the building of the “new plant” and how it was going to bring hundreds of jobs—which it did. The nuclear industry was in its infancy. They were playing with dice and hoping for the best in beating the Russians.

Interviews

Uncle Bobby was my eyewitness, my conduit to the past, to the plant, to the human aspect. At the time, I’d envisioned the book completed and published to celebrate Fernald’s 50th anniversary—2001. I really had no idea.

I questioned Uncle Bob: “What about losing your hair?”

“That was nothing.” Same closed-mouth attitude from interviewees and others beholden to their government, their employer, and their own promises.

“Loose lips sink ships”—caution right there in The Atomizer. I don’t believe the workers were afraid. I believe they were patriotic. I believe they believed the government wouldn’t ask them to enter a dangerous work situation. And as long as a man was working he was doing the right best thing–echoing Uncle Bob and dozens of Fernald employees in their interview transcripts.

Striving for Authenticity

What did Uncle Bob do at Fernald, what it was like, what were his buddies like, did they understand the danger, and did they care? I took notes; I had a binder of industry and government papers I’d copied. I studied these like I’d be tested. Above all, I wanted to write with authenticity, and I knew it would be so hard. Till then, I’d only written stories that emerged from inside me. This story would have to be, on many counts, outside of me. I would immerse myself in research until I was busting with the Fernaldia I ingested.

Writing, Revisitng, Revising

A year and half later, nowhere near finished mourning my mother, and now her brother, Uncle Bob, was dying. Feed Materials, as I called the book, was where I poured this loss, revisiting my loved ones, revising them, and being among them, seeing them so clearly in memory and then freshly relevant in the stories where I cast them. No wonder it took me 15 years to complete. Writing this book kept them alive, and I didn’t want to lose them twice.

Donna VitucciDonna D. Vitucci is a life-long writer, and was a finalist for the Bellwether Prize in 2010. Her second novel, SALT OF PATRIOTS, shines light on the nuclear industry’s early days at the Feed Materials Production Center (FMPC) by focusing on ground level workers in this rural Ohio uranium processing plant. Characters and events are inspired by her uncles, who worked at the FMPC, and imagined from hundreds of true interviews conducted as part of lawsuit remediation activities in the 1990’s. Donna lives, works, and shares the best of urban living with her partner in the Historic Licking Riverside District of Covington, Kentucky.

Deborah Lee Luskin has been a regular contributor to Live to Write – Write to Live since 2011. She blogs weekly about Living in Place, Lessons from the Long Trail, Middle Age, and Vermonters By Choice at www.deborahleeluskin.com. Hope to see you there!

Flexing a writing muscle

(I know, are you sick of me yet? Because I’ve been MIA for a while, I decided to fill in a few holes this week. Thanks for putting up with me and oh by the way, I’m happy to hear that I’m not alone in my book hoarding tendencies. )

Today’s little discussion is going to be about breaking out of your rut.

“What rut?” You may think – “What’s she talking about? I’m perfectly happy writing short stories, non-fiction, copy material or news articles.”

And chances are you probably are happy. You’ve got a routine, you can write what you need to write and perhaps it’s even gotten easy.

You don’t want to rock the boat, right?

But look at any kind of exercise program. You never go to the gym and do the exact same routine every day. You’re supposed to mix it up. Cardio one day, weights another, maybe even a day of rest. When you do this, your entire body gets stronger.

I recently went to Spain with a friend. When I’m on vacation I usually take at least 3 books to read (what if I finish one and there’s no bookstore around?) This time though, I only took one book. Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Writing. I took one book so that I would read that one book.

I’m not a travel writer. Oh sure, I can write *stories* about my travels but that’s different from “travel writing.”  (Here’s an example of my “story travel writing.

While we were on the plane(s), I read my book.

Before I turned off my light each night, I read my book.

I carried it with me and read the excellent examples of travel essays with pen in hand, highlighting certain parts that I thought were brilliant.

And something funny started to happen. When we visited a cathedral, I started noticing details that I might not have before. I began to pay more attention to history, how things were constructed and how it all fit together.

At a restaurant I noticed the atmosphere, the prices, the glasses in which our wine was served.

It’s like I started using some muscles that although they had been there all along had become weakened from non-use.

Does this make me a travel writer?

Absolutely not, no more than getting up and walking around the block makes me a marathoner.

But it does open my eyes. It adds more muscle to my skill kit. I liked what I read enough to try writing a few travel articles. Like anyone else with a new program, I’ll start small, but if I keep with it enough smalls will eventually lead to a large.

Consider flexing a new or unused writing muscle in your spare time this weekend.

Read, do, write.

 

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Hi, I’m Wendy and I’m a book hoarder

Hi, I’m Wendy and I’m a book hoarder.

I try not to buy any new books but I can’t seem to help myself. I read a back cover about an interesting story –

I want to know more.

I hear about a new vegan family cookbook.

I want to try the recipes.

I watch someone being interviewed on a show.

I want to learn more.

And nope, buying them to read on a Kindle just doesn’t do it for me. I have to hold the book in my hands, smell the pages, feel the paper, see the font that’s used.

I am aghast when I enter a house that has no bookshelves, where on earth do you keep them?

I secretly judge people when I pass a bedroom and there is no book on the night stand.

And yes, I have more books than I can possibly read in my lifetime. I’m trying to offload some of them but it’s like saying goodbye to friends – something I’d rather not do. I keep books that I’ve started and lost interest in thinking that *someday* I’ll get back to them. So I make deals with myself. I can’t bring in a new book until I move out at least 3 books.

It worked until I went into an independent bookstore. By my calculation I need to get rid of 27 books by tonight in order to stay true to my commitment.

And then there are used books. Whenever I go with my daughters to a thrift store, they go right to the clothing and I to the books. Yesterday I brought home 2 travel essay books.

Add 6 more books to my removal total.

My husband is a very tolerant person. As an avid reader himself, he’s never commented on my “habit” – I mean when making bad life choices buying books is pretty low on the list.

But still the other day he quietly pointed me to a news article. Apparently the Japanese have a word for book hoarders.

The desire to buy more books than you can physically read in one human lifetime is actually so universal, there’s a specific word for it: tsundoku. Defined as the stockpiling of books that will never be consumed, the term is a Japanese portmanteau of sorts, combining the words “tsunde” (meaning “to stack things”), “oku” (meaning “to leave for a while”) and “doku” (meaning “to read”).

Who knew? In some ways it’s nice to finally be recognized (diagnosed?) for what I have, but on the other hand – wow, who knew this was a thing? It looks like I’m a member of a tribe that I didn’t even know existed.

So I guess I need to modify my introduction.

Hi, I’m Wendy and I have tsundoku.

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Living linear (or not) in a world of imagination

I recently had to see a few different doctors about a medical condition of mine (I’m fine.) As it turned out to fix my condition, I was supposed to have surgery in one office and then travel to another site, the next day for a surgical repair by a plastic surgeon.

When I initially consulted with the plastic surgeon he explained the proposed surgery to me. It was going to be complicated and involved skin flaps. I told him that I was a writer, had done a ton of research prior to the appointment and that I had many questions.

Some questions were on what he planned to do.

Some had to do with infection rates (I used to be a clinical microbiologist so I knew enough to be concerned about that.)

Some questions were just about things I wanted to know.

I asked my questions and at one point he stopped me. “I can tell you’re a linear type. I have a lot of patients who are engineers and I can see that you’re like them. I’ll tell you what, write down all your questions and I’ll answer them on the day you have surgery.”

Well, okay then.

The thing is, I’m not a linear thinker (just take one look at the clutter on my desk and you’d see that was clearly not a valid description of me.)

I was a little miffed. As a woman asking questions, was this the persona I emitted? Or as an ego-driven surgeon was that the persona he assumed of a woman who dared to clarify information?

As it turned out, I didn’t have to use that particular doctor’s services (yeah!). The wound I had following the first surgery was something that could be closed up onsite. It was all good.

Yesterday I went to get the stitches out. As the nurse was (literally) in my face, she kept up some small talk to distract me from scissors and scalpels (that again, were literally in my face.) “You’re a writer?” she asked me. She liked to write but had never gotten anything published.

“Yes,” I replied. “I’m a writer.”

We talked some more (there were a lot of stitches) about the life of writers, how I worked from home, and how I was able to be a full-time freelance writer because my husband had a good job that included benefits.

“It must be fun,” she sighed.

I told her it was. “And the best part is that I get to hang around with other writers, the people in my tribe.’ I told her. “Writers are the most extraordinary people because they all invent these wonderful worlds in their heads.”

She finished, bandaged me up, and I was on my way.

Two different situations – two vastly different reactions to what I am as a person – as a work of life-art.

Look I could read a lot into this – male vs. female perspective, pre-surgery jitters vs. post surgery relaxation, doctor vs. nurse, there are a million things to compare, but what I want to leave you with is that old adage that we’ve heard a million times.

When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me. (ass-u-me)

As writers, it’s our job to give out correct and appropriate information so that our readers don’t make the wrong assumption about us or our stories. We can’t assume they have prior knowledge, or that they hold similar beliefs. Heck we can’t even assume that they’ll be the same audience that read our last piece.

And if we don’t, if we somehow give someone the wrong impression of us or our work, then we need to take a good look at that situation.

Sometimes it’s the other person’s fault, their filter make them only see something in a certain way.

But it’s important to at least acknowledge that sometimes it just might be *our* filter that made us act (or write) in a certain way to give that impression.

Soooooo not linear.

 

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Three Steps to Website Revision

I recently completed the three stops to website revision: Procrastination, New Headshot, Revised Content.

Procrastination

I’ve needed to revise the Writing Services section of my website for almost two years. During the previous iteration, I called myself a pen-for-hire. I do have reliable and lucrative clients who pay me to write for them, but the truth is more people hire me to teach and to talk, activities that build audience and allow me more time to write what I want. I kept planning to revise the content on these pages – as soon as I had a new headshot to go with.

New Headshot

Moose

Camera shy charismatic mega fauna photo by my friend Kathy Lena

Like most charismatic mega fauna, I don’t like to stand still for the camera, so I kept “forgetting” to ask my friend who’s a wildlife photographer to snap a new headshot. Then, I lost the names of the two professional photographers my hairdresser recommended. I put it off, cleverly combining this task with procrastination.

But on a leadership retreat in February, I met Kelly, someone I knew by sight and got to know better. I liked her a lot. It turns out, she’s a free-lance photographer. Even before I saw her spectacular portfolio, I hired her.

alternate headshot

I love this shot, too.

Working with a professional photographer was a revelation. It taught me new respect for both photographers and models. Posing is exhausting, but working with Kelly was a blast. She put me at ease; I trusted her; she encouraged me. We spent most of two hours and ended up with more than a dozen really good shots. She took so many good pictures of me, it was hard to choose which one to use.

In this case, procrastination paid off. Or maybe waiting for the right photographer wasn’t really procrastination. Maybe procrastination is really just another way of saying, Readiness is all.

REVISED CONTENT

Once the headshots were done, I doubled down on revising Writing Services, which now includes Manuscript Development, where I can help you tell your story, as well as Pen-for-Hire, where I can write your story for you. New sections on Teaching and Speaking are in the works.

The goal is to make it easy for  visitors to find out how to hire me to tutor, teach, or talk. It’s a work-in-progress. Ultimately, it will include some new headings in the navigation bar, and some changes in the sidebar, including notice of upcoming speaking events. Stay tuned!

My webmistress is Codewryter, who does the customized coding. She’s also teaching me how to navigate the back end of the site, which is surprisingly user friendly. Even though the site upgrades aren’t all finished, I’m pleased with how they’re taking shape. I hope you’ll visit and let me know what you think.

Deb wearing purple

Another great photo!

Deborah Lee Luskin posts an essay every Wednesday on a variety of subjects centered around Living in Place in rural Vermont. You can visit her at www.deborahleeluskin.com