Today we’d like to introduce you to Mag Gabbert.
Mag, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I first started writing back in college at Trinity University. I was lucky enough to enroll in a poetry course while I was still a freshman, and that class had a profound effect on my goals moving forward. After college, I continued straight into an MFA program, where I focused on poetry and nonfiction writing. I attended The University of California at Riverside’s low-residency MFA program, and I’m so glad I did. I really believe the faculty and the friends I made there were both keys to my success as a writer.
Following my MFA I went straight into a PhD program, this time at Texas Tech University. While at Tech, I had my first opportunity to teach undergraduate courses in creative writing and literature, and I also began learning more about what it takes to establish and maintain various kinds of literary communities–what it takes to truly participate as a literary citizen. Our program often hosted local reading events, brought in wonderful writers from out of town, and made sure to support us in each of our literary endeavors. Before graduating from Texas Tech, I also became an associate editor for Iron Horse Literary Review, which is a position I continue to hold.
About a year ago I moved back to Dallas, and around that time I was fortunate enough to meet Blake Kimzey, the founder and director of Writing Workshops Dallas. I began teaching nonfiction classes for WWD last summer, and this year I started offering poetry courses as well. We’ve enjoyed a lot of success during our short time as an organization so far, and we are very much committed to serving the literary community here in Dallas. We host regular mixers and meet & greets, send out a newsletter with writing tips and information, and occasionally we even offer free seminars. One of our upcoming projects includes setting up a scholarship fund for potential students in need.
In addition to teaching for Writing Workshops Dallas, I recently began teaching for the Graduate Department of Liberal Studies at SMU. I also work part-time as a freelance poetry and nonfiction editor for Limpede Ink, and I’ll be co-hosting the Pegasus Reading Series–featuring locally and nationally acclaimed poets–alongside Sebastian Paramo in Deep Ellum this coming year. Last but not least, about a week ago I accepted a position as the interviews editor for Underblong Journal, which was founded by my friends (and fellow poets) Chen Chen and Sam Herschel Wein.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The short answer is no, it hasn’t. Every part of my journey as a writer has required persistence more than anything else.
For example, prior to applying to MFA programs, I had to square up with a lot of my weaknesses as a writer. I was afraid to try new things–to evolve and develop in terms of my style and voice–and I wasn’t very good at taking suggestions or revising. But, I knew that if I didn’t face those issues, I wouldn’t get in to any of the competitive programs I was applying to. It took a healthy dose of humility and determination to address those shortcomings, and I’m grateful to my faculty mentors for their honesty during that time–and for ultimately sticking by me.
Later on, once I entered the PhD program at Texas Tech, I learned how difficult and consuming academia can be. My first year there was one of the hardest times I’ve ever gone through; I was teaching two undergraduate classes for the first time, and was also enrolled in a full load of PhD coursework. I often worked more than twelve hours on any given day. But, I wanted that degree more than anything, so I just kept going. And eventually, as I began to adjust, things got a bit easier.
Another challenge I’ve faced (along with many emerging writers) is building up my publications. At first, when I began sending out work as an MFA student, I received nothing but rejections for over two years. Then, slowly, some of my pieces started getting accepted. But I wasn’t really able to arrive at a point where my work was regularly published in journals and magazines until the second year of my PhD—at least five years after I began sending out submissions. For some writers, I know this process takes even longer. You just need an eagerness to improve your work and an endless amount of determination.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Mag Gabbert story. Tell us more about the business.
Well, I guess one thing you could say sets me apart is the fact that–to a degree–I am my own brand. I’ve worked very hard to begin building a name for myself as a writer, editor, and teacher. I take pride in always providing my students and clients with insightful, thorough feedback, and I would say that we tend to have a lot of fun in my classes. I also feel that my two biggest strengths as a writer are my optimism and persistence. Yes, I believe I’m very good at what I do; but I don’t think that I necessarily started out with much natural talent. It was my dedication to the craft–and my belief that I could keep improving–that ultimately allowed me to succeed.
I’d also like to take a moment to talk a little more about Writing Workshops Dallas here, because I truly believe we’re introducing something new, exciting, and necessary to Dallas’ literary landscape. One of the best things about Writing Workshops Dallas is that it’s designed to accommodate the busy schedules of working professionals, and many of our classes have no requirement for prior writing experience. Most of the classes we offer meet once a week for a total of eight weeks, and they’re typically held at night from either 6:30-9:00pm or from 7:00-9:30. Another big plus is the fact that you can study with published writers–all of whom have advanced degrees in writing and college teaching experience–without having to apply to a school, pay for tuition, or complete a degree. We’re focused on helping our students improve and excel as writers, not on assigning a grade.
Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I would say that luck and determination go hand-in-hand, really. I feel I’ve been extremely lucky as a writer–lucky to be admitted to advanced degree programs, lucky to be invited to read my work and speak at various events, and lucky to have my work accepted for publication. But none of those things would’ve happened if I hadn’t first done the work to end up in the right place at the right time. I helped to position myself for success by spending hours and hours filling out applications, going out of my way to meet other writers and establish connections with them, and by diligently sending out my work each month.
I do feel extremely fortunate, because I know there are many aspiring writers out there who have put forth the same amount of effort to little avail, and some of them are really producing excellent work. But I also know that I’ve worked hard, and I believe I’ve earned the small amount of success that I’ve achieved so far. Now, part of my goal as a literary citizen is to help others learn to navigate these early stages of a writing career. I want to offer the same kind of mentorship that helped to bring me this far.
- Website: maggabbert.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: mag.gabbert
- Twitter: mag_gabbert
Both professional photos (the solo headshot in turtleneck and solo portrait in blazer) to Jason Lott.