DIY MFA Book Club: My Writing Space

Today’s DIY MFA Book Club prompt is to show and describe your writing space.

I have a wide, flat desk. I took three pictures (rather than a panorama) for ease of description.


So, here’s the middle part of my desk. I have a small laptop (it’s an 11″ MacBook Air). I have the smaller size partly as a function of cost, but I also prefer it for practical reasons. Its lighter and more portable and just easier to use sitting on a sofa or in bed.

The corkboard directly in front of me is for my current WIP. I do index cards for each character, with their name and photo and details about them.

The three magazine boxes are: one for unused or in process notebooks, one for completed notebooks ,and the third for a mix of magazines, papers, etc.

The horizontal trays contain a print out of my all but finished novel and some unused (larger) notebooks.


To my left, there is a little plastic box of used index cards for other projects. Another plastic box has post-its of various sizes, small notebooks, index cards, and ink cartridges of various types for my various fountain pens.

Then there’s my current research books (one about the Curiosity rover on Mars, one about the Solar System, and one about lesbians in Canada in the first half of the 20th century).

And then there’s my notebook and cards for the all-but-finished novel I’ve been actively working on.



And then on my right, it’s mostly knick-knacks and my knitting bowl (with current project in it). The other corkboard has various things on it, some drawings done by my partner, some reminder messages regarding writing, some random items.

I have a lot of writing books on the bookshelf further off to this side, so they’re close at hand.

And that’s it! I don’t do a lot of physical reminders of goal setting or anything like that.


DIY MFA Book Club: My reading list

So today’s DIY MFA Book Club prompt is about what we read as writers and is divided into two parts.

The first part is the “essentials” and these would be the three books that would have as you write if you could only have three — an anthology of short fiction, a book of prompts, and a craft book.

This is tricky. I don’t read a lot of anthologies, I don’t generally do prompts, and I have shelves and shelves of craft books. I’m going to work backwards.

My current must-have writing craft book is Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere) by Lisa Cron. I read it last summer and it has been really transformative for me in how I think about developing characters and plot.

The more I have reflected on the ‘book of prompts’ I realized that the only place I have consistently turned to for prompts is Story A Day, which runs Story A Day May, in which prompts are posted each day and the goal is to write a story, however short or long, each day for the month (this has expanded to include September, too). I have never gone to prompt books to work on specific areas of my writing, as Gabriela described in today’s prompt, but I find it an interesting idea and I’m going to look into the suggested books and see if I find something that catches my eye.

And, as far as anthologies of short fiction go, there are a few good general anthologies of science fiction published every year, like Neil Clarke’s The Best Science Fiction of the Year, so I would pick that.

The second part of today’s prompt is about building a short reading list of things to read in the short term. This list falls into a few categories. I still have some thinking to do, but a few things jumped out at me.

Competitive Titles (ones similar to what I am writing)

  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
  • The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin

Contextual Books (research materials, etc)

  • The Design and Engineering of Curiosity: How the Mars Rover Does Its Job
  • The Cambridge Guide to the Solar System
  • On an ongoing basis, I read a lot of reports and news items from NASA and the other space agencies, as well as listening to briefings and podcasts.

Contemporary Books (recent books)

  • The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander
  • Jade City by Fonda Lee
  • All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault by James Alan Gardner


  • I want to do a re-read of the Rama series by Arthur C Clarke

DIY MFA: Try a new technique

Today’s prompt for the DIY MFA Book Club is to a try a new-to-you technique from the DIY MFA book.

I always appreciate this sort of external push towards trying something that I might not do otherwise. It was also encouragement to spend some more time with the book (which, while I had been intending on doing so, had not really happened).

So, I ended up doing the story sketch for the novel that I almost ready to send out to publishers. This novel has been at this state for the last four or six months. My daughter read it in the summer and we talked about the adjustments that ought to be made to it.

Since then, I have been half-heartedly working on it. While I want to finish it, other (life) things have intervened. I have written a half-dozen short stories and submitted most of them to various places. And I wrote the first draft of my next novel in November for Nanowrimo.

I have, with a certain amount of enthusiasm and some reticence, returned to the absolutely-positively final edit of this novel in the last few weeks. The story sketch exercise jumped out at me as a nice focusing exercise. I have put this aside again and again and I need to to be clear, to myself, about what is the core story that I am trying to tell.

I have not completely finished the story sketch, but it is already helping me to  focus on the central aspects of my story. Generally, I find that, the deeper that I get into editing, the easier it is for me to start panicking and wanting to change absolutely everything. Having a basic understanding of the story and what it is intended to express is enormously helpful.