My Do-it-Yourself Homegrown Self-Appointed MFA

I am never going to get an MFA.

In the first place, the cost of chasing one down is out of my budget–considering I have kids to put through college.

Secondly, even if I had the money, MFA programs have them whattaya-call-em…’standards‘, which means it’s unlikely I’d be accepted.

However, in the spirit of improving my craft, I decided to make 2018 the year of My Do-it-Yourself Homegrown Self-Appointed MFA.

Here’s what I did:

Read. A lot.

I didn’t break any Goodreads records, but I did beat my goal of 36 books this year. I read 40 fiction, motivational, and writing craft books in 2018.

In fact, the idea to earn my Do-it-Yourself Homegrown Self-Appointed MFA came to me after I came across the reading list of an MFA hopeful. This hopeful was pursing an MFA in Young Adult fiction and had been provided a list of ten YA books to chose from. They were supposed to pick three.

I decided to read them all.

Once I finished, I added more YA books to my to-be-read, both new releases and classic favorites. In addition to YA, I read chick lit, fantasy, romance, horror, literature, pulp, and even a few non-fiction.

Fangirl by Rainbow RowellGirls by Frederick BuschBad Girls Throughout History by Ann ShenThe Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa SeeThe Book Thief by Markus ZusakThe Catcher in the Rye by J.D. SalingerSee All the Stars by Kit FrickBone Gap by Laura RubyOne of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManusSimple Truth by Carol BodensteinerEleanor & Park by Rainbow RowellThe New Jim Crow by Michelle AlexanderThe Wicked, Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House by Mary ChaseThe Hate U Give by Angie ThomasButterfly by Sonya HartnettMansfield Park by Jane AustenBoy Meets Boy by David LevithanAsking For It by Louise O'NeillIf I Was Your Girl by Meredith RussoForever . . . by Judy BlumeThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark HaddonTurtles All the Way Down by John GreenThirteen Reasons Why by Jay AsherRagtime by E.L. DoctorowThe Color Purple by Alice WalkerA Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le GuinYoung Goodman Brown by Nathaniel HawthorneSon of the Morning by Linda HowardEverything's Eventual by Stephen KingA Game of Thrones by George R.R. MartinSkies of Gold by Zoe ArcherThe Giver by Lois LowryAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman

For craft books, I picked up some excellent suggestions after lurking around the boards at PitchWars. My favorite was Story Genius, but I also enjoyed Writing the Breakout Novel. I’m currently reading Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story.

Save the Cat by Blake SnyderWriting the Breakout Novel by Donald MaassStory Genius by Lisa CronBig Magic by Elizabeth GilbertWired for Story: The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence

The 5 Second Rule by Mel RobbinsFor inspiration, I opened the year with Big Magic. However, for a good old-fashioned ass-kicking motivation, I listened to Mel Robbins’s audio book The 5-Second Rule. Three times.



The War of Art by Steven PressfieldStephen Pressman’s The War of Art is a favorite for helping me overcome the resistance/writer’s block that follows me like a tall shadow on a late winter afternoon.

I Found a Critique Partner.

Thanks to Wendy Heard, author of upcoming release Hunting Annabelle, I found a CP. Wendy offers a matchmaking service and matches writers by genre and level of experience. I hit the jackpot with my new Critique Partner, Gavin. Not only is he a talented writer full of insight, he’s got industry experience. I only hope I can be as much help to him as he’s already been to me.

I Got Professional Help.

When I started querying my latest novel this spring, I got lots of requests, but no takers. After the fourth or fifth “loved the writing, not the story” letter, I put my querying on hiatus and started getting serious about finding some professional help.

Image result for kit frick

Kit Frick, author of See All The Stars

I decided to go with Kit Frick. Kit is an extraordinarily talented writer. Her debut See All the Stars is a runaway success and she’s got three more books you can look forward to in the coming years. She’s also a gifted editor offering services through Copper Lantern Studio.

Writers can hire Kit for everything from coaching to Editorial Blueprints to full-manuscript editing. Her prices are beyond reasonable.

Right now, my novel is in her talented hands and I look forward to hearing back from her before the end of the year.

I Took Classes.

I took classes both online and in person. I enjoyed a journalism class, attended webinars, and attended two workshops at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, including Kelly Dwyer’s Five Elements of a Novel.

It was in Kelly’s workshop that I completely revamped my plot for my novel in progress. The feedback I got from Kelly and fellow participants was instrumental in strengthening my story.

I Got Some Writing Jobs.

Iowa’s Emerging Writers Pick up your copy today!

In 2018, I landed a couple of writing positions. I’m now a regular contributor for HER Magazine and have had stories and articles published in local lifestyle magazine Grande Living.

My short story “Hooked” was published in September of this year in Iowa’s Emerging Writers. I was honored and flattered when they reached out to me to request a submission, and proud to be a part of this project along with so many talented writers.

I’ve also been brushing up on my editing chops at For several hours every week, I wade through the slush pile, give writers feedback, and edit stories for publication.

I Wrote.

I wrote. I wrote a lot and then I wrote some more. I finished my third novel in March of 2018 (The Kwan Factor).

I wrote 72 articles and/or stories for my blog. I started two new blogs.

Plus, I’ve written over 200,000 words on my current work-in-progress–just since July of this year! Some of these words are probably even good. I’ll have muchos editing to do when it’s time to pin down the fourth draft of this untitled novel, but I’m proud of the fact that I’ve averaged 40,000 words a month.

The Year In Review

In 2018, I didn’t land representation for my most recently finished novel. I didn’t win Pitch Wars, I didn’t win any writing contests.

I didn’t land a 3-book deal with a major publisher, I didn’t get a fat option for my last novel, I didn’t land on anyone’s best seller list. In fact, I’ve hardly sold any books, and most days it seems my aspirations of making a living as a writer are as distant as Dan Brown’s aspirations for the Man Booker prize.

However, thanks to all this effort, there’s one thing I can check off my to-do list–I’ve earned my Do-it-Yourself Homegrown Self-Appointed MFA. And goddamn, when I look at all these accomplishments all one place, I’m tempted to name myself valedictorian or something.

If you need me, I’ll be signing my own diploma.


  1. You rock!

    Okay, so I’m actually going to apply to a few MFA programs. Wish me luck. It would be a miracle to get in. It would be a miracle to be able to pay for it. But I want to try.

    Who knows, I may be doing a do-it-yourself MFA in 2019. 🙂

    And! And I wore my best socks in the whole wide world again recently and they really are. Thank you!!

    How is life generally?

    All is same here in every way.



    Liked by 1 person

    1. YOU rock! I’m so excited for you! I don’t think you’ll have any trouble finding an MFA program.

      Miss you! We are overdue for a catch up session.


  2. peterkirsch

    Congratulations, KC. For serious.

    You have SO MUCH to be proud of this year.MFA or not, setting those goals and taking the steps to achieve them is worthy of so much more than some hollow diploma. Don’t forget the mothering, the wife-ing, the working, and the living. All of that is obstacle enough.

    You inspire me, Karen. I’m so f-ing proud of you.

    Write on.

    P.S. I think it’s time for you to consider dropping the agent track for KWAN and start looking for regional and University presses to work with directly. I’ve also only recently become aware of “Publishizer” and I really like the model and impetus behind it. Just a suggestion…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting. I will check out Publishizer.

      Thanks for your very kind words. I’m lucky to have a friend like you!


  3. Congratulations to you! Sounds to me like you had a GREAT year 🙂 And that you worked hard and aren’t quitting which is most important!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks MB! Sometimes I think I must be nuts to keep going, but I’m too stubborn to stop. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You’ve achieved so much! All your accomplishments are amazing – well done, Karen. I know what you mean about the writing dream – I’ve sold a few short stories/serial this year but aside from that have little to show for these twelve months. But we keep plugging away and with the determination you have, I’m sure you’ll succeed. Well done

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Lynn. Congrats on selling your stories! I wouldn’t be surprised if you sell a book sometime soon!


  5. Bravo for a year well spent! I am so impressed with your chugging along the track of professional fiction writing, and thought I should let you know (though an unpublished layperson in this world, myself) that I think you definitely have the chops to do this! The main takeaway of this article is to impress the rest of us with the fact, that there is so much more we could be doing.Happy Holidays!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. First, thanks for your kind words–that really means a lot coming from you!

      The idea for the article came about more because I was feeling frustrated at my lack of progress. So I decided to stop staring how far I had left to go and instead turn around and see how far I’d come. I was genuinely surprised to realize what I’d accomplished. In truth, I’ve been blessed with enough time to pursue this dream more this year than ever before in my life. We are all capable of so much more than we realize. Happy Holidays to you too!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hey, you really did it in 2018. I’ll let you be my inspiration for 2019. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lol, I don’t know if I’ve ever been anyone’s inspiration before! But heck yeah, if you’re inclined to chase your dreams, I’ll be cheering you along!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, I am already chasing. But it doesn’t go amiss to have someone’s example to encourage and keep us on track. 🙂 And you’ve certainly set a good example in 2018.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Looks like you have been at the blogging/writing as long as I have (if not longer). It’s nice to finally “meet” you.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Blogging since 2012. Writing since 9 years old. Now determined to grab a huge hammer and break the crust that’s kept me out for so long. (It’s called the occasional dip in confidence and accompanying inertia) ! Glad to make your acquaintance. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  7. A busy year, Karen. A productive year. A growth year, in so many ways. Well done.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Kelvin. It was a busy year!


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