Writer in progress, aka the DIY MFA

Last week I turned in the manuscript for my second novel, to be released by Lake Union Publishing in May 2018. (Cue the birds on the drop cap!) Relinquishing it, however, means that for the first time in more than six years – since I began my first novel, Sparrow Migrations, in November 2010 — I don’t have a WIP, or work in progress. It has unleashed a strange set of feelings I’m calling writer empty-nest syndrome.

Like an empty-nester feels initially (or so I imagine, with my own kids ages 11 and 8) there’s a huge sense of exhilaration. I did

Stagnant writer = bad.

Stagnant writer = bad.


Striding writer = good.

it! A book will be published. But right on its heels – now what? A subtle but distinct current of lost purpose runs beneath the sensations of victory and relief. As illustrated with a couple of my favorite office tchotchkes, I want to stride ahead, not stagnate.

Strictly speaking, Novel No. 2 is still in progress. At least three rounds of editing lie ahead before what’s now a Word document becomes a bound, (and e-edition, and mp3-ed) book. Based on my experience with Novel No. 1, however, that will comprise at most three months of the 17 that stand between present date and publication date.

I also learned with Novels 1 and 2 that I’m not a writer who can switch back and forth between projects. Thus, while I do have an idea for a next book – series, in fact – I don’t want to launch it as a WIP until my obligation to Novel No. 2 is completely fulfilled. What to do with 14 months to stride ahead instead of stagnate?

The answer I’m returning to is to reframe the WIP acronym. Rather than have a work in progress, I’m making 2017 the year of writer in progress, building on steps taken in 2016.

Last year one of my professional goals was to attend a writer’s conference. I chose the Writer’s Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, largely because the date, location and price worked with my schedule and budget. It also offered a variety of sessions, from craft to pitching and querying agents to building a platform and marketing your work. By far, the craft workshops were my favorites.

I followed that up last November with a MOOC on fiction writing from the University of Iowa. Bringing the then-WIP across the finish line kept me from fully participating, and I’m not sure the anonymous nature of a MOOC is right for me, either. Still, consistent with Madison, the takeaway was I enjoyed education in craft and technique.

Thus I’m seeking recommendations to concoct a DIY MFA, if you will. I’d like short-course options that explore outside my usual niche of contemporary, long-form fiction. Screenwriting and editing, short stories, personal essays and oral storytelling are all intriguing. Courses will most likely need to be online but I’d like to be able to contact an instructor by email or phone. I’m open to peer or cohort learning as long as it’s led by an instructor with published credentials. As a first step I’ve enrolled in Katey Schultz’s Flash in a Flash and saved the dates for upcoming Here:Say storytelling nights in my hometown.

In Chinese culture, 2017 is a year of the rooster, as was the year of my birth, 1969. Seems like an auspicious omen for an inwardly-focused year. Please send your suggestions in the comments.

The letter L brought to you by Daily Drop Cap. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *