Friday Speak Out!: A DIY MFA

Friday, July 14, 2017
by Laurel Davis Huber

I do not have an MFA. I’ve often wondered: Is that a good thing or a bad thing? On one hand, it’s possible that having an MFA would have made it easier to sell my first book—a quick look at the daily sales report on Publishers Marketplace reveals a slew of debut authors with an MFA from Iowa or Columbia or the University of Michigan, etc. On the other hand, I have a pretty good hunch that the competitive environment, the constant feedback/criticism from peers, would have overwhelmed me. It’s possible I might have lost my truest writer self in the quest for validation. But who knows? In the final analysis, I’m happy with my invisible advanced degree, the ten-year DIY MFA.

At any rate, the issue is a moot point. As Margery Bianco, author of The Velveteen Rabbit, says in my novel, “Well, here we are now, and I suppose we must concentrate on what’s in front of us.”

I learned by stumbling along. The first step, since my novel is a work of historical fiction, was to spend years doing research. As I collected pieces of information, I found more than facts: the story line became clearer, and the characters themselves began to come alive.

For instance, some easy research for Margery was simply to read all of her books. From these alone one senses her warmth, her knowledge of children, her clear-eyed view of the world, and her great wisdom. (I would point interested readers to Poor Cecco, her largely forgotten novel for children that illuminates Margery’s humor and grace and uncanny understanding of human nature—all through characters that are toys and animals.)

Pamela, the artist daughter, was very unlike her mother. It’s almost certain that today she would have been diagnosed as bipolar, though in her time her disease was labeled simply “melancholia.” To understand her, I read widely on depression. William Styron (author of Sophie’s Choice) wrote about his own struggle in Darkness Invisible, a book that was particularly helpful in understanding the hell that is depression.

As for the actual writing—or “craft”—I have two habits. I rise at dawn (I know, I know, I can’t help it!) so most of my writing takes place in the early morning hours when my brain works best. And when I am “stuck”—when I cannot work out a transition or decide how a character should react, etc.—I go for a long walk. I take along paper folded into quarters and write notes as ideas spring up. See how easy craft is?

Not. Let me synthesize a million articles on writing for you. Good writing takes Devotion. It takes Heart. It takes An Unshakable Belief That Your Story Must Be Told. It takes Learning What Feedback to Accept and What to Reject. But most of all it takes Rewriting and Rewriting and Rewriting.

Now, in a nutshell, you have my personal DIY ten-year MFA program. It is open to all writers.

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Laurel Davis Huber grew up in Rhode Island and Oklahoma. She is a graduate of Smith College. She has worked as corporate newsletter editor, communications director for a botanical garden, high school English teacher, and as senior development officer for both New Canaan Country School and Amherst College. She has studied with the novelist and short-story writer Leslie Pietrzyk (the 2015 Drue Heinz Literature Prize winner for This Angel on My Chest) and has participated in several writing residencies at the Vermont Studio Center. Ms. Huber and her husband split their time between New Jersey and Maine. She is the author of THE VELVETEEN DAUGHTER. For more information, please visit her online at and on FaceBook
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Sioux Roslawski said...

Laurel--The school of hard knocks is often just as educational as a college or university.

What's the name of your novel? It sounds appealing.

Good luck with your future writing projects and if you need to take a break for a moment, check out my Muffin post from Thursday (the day before your post). You might enjoy doing one of those things.

Bianco said...

Hi Sioux! Love your Muffin post - very creative (and funny)!! I taught high school English - really was in awe of the middle school teachers every day. Your students are lucky to have you. My novel is THE VELVETEEN DAUGHTER - just out as of 7/11. Check it out!

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