5 Reasons To Apply for the Short Story Incubator 

Short Story Incubator alum Ralph Rodriguez writes about why you should apply for the program. Ralph is the author of Latinx Literature Unbound: Undoing Ethnic Expectation (FORDHAM UP, 2018) and Brown Gumshoes: Detective Fiction and the Search for Chicana/o Identity

Little time passes before I’m raving to yet another writer friend about the joys and benefits of the Short Story Incubator. I’ve long been a fan of GrubStreet, and I came to the Short Story Incubator at just the right time. I had taken two Fiction II workshops and two Fiction Master classes. They were all amazing ten-week learning experiences, and the benefits I gained from working and reworking stories in those classes put me in a good position to take advantage of an intensive class in short story writing. I’m a fan of listicles, so let me tell you about my five greatest takeaways from the Short Story Incubator.

1. Unique Program Format Designed For Short Story Writers

In other classes, you are often generating new material -- and that is, of course, much needed -- but a unique aspect of the Short Story Incubator is that you enter the class with three stories already pretty far along that you want to take to the next level. The instructor, Ron MacLean, has designed the course so that you workshop all three stories in the first phase and then decide which one to take across the finish line in phase two. I had never had a chance to workshop three stories in one term. In addition, you’re reading and offering constructive feedback on your peers’ three stories, so you are wonderfully deep in the land of learning how to improve the craft of writing. Then, as you’re sitting with the feedback on your stories during the break between phases and deciding which one to bring across the finish line, Ron has you working on a craft lesson that you have generated in consultation with him. Mine was working on how to better get interior emotional landscapes down on the page. When you come back from break, you give a mini-presentation on your craft lesson. This gives you the chance to learn from all of your peers’ craft lessons. I loved the many hours I spent reading and re-reading stories to better understand how they exhibited emotion and learning new techniques to use in my own fiction. 

2. Bring Your Story Across the Finish Line

Phase two brings with it the excitement and energy that you put into all three stories in phase one with the wisdom you gained from the feedback you received from your peers. Plus, you’ve spent winter break reading published stories and taking them apart in terms of your craft lesson. So, you have all this terrific momentum to pour into a deep dive revision on one story. I’ve never had a story I was prepared to really push so far along, and, wow, did that intense revision serve me well. I chose to work on the title story of the collection I’m writing and I saw it improve dramatically. I used it as the basis for my discussion with an agent at The Muse and the Marketplace’s Manuscript Mart (GrubStreet’s terrific writing conference and a part of your tuition for the class). It turned out to be an incredibly productive and instructive conversation. In fact, the agent I met with at the Muse took me on as a client. I absolutely love the working relationship I have with her. Also, I’m proud to say that with more revision, based on what I learned in the Incubator, I got that story to the finish line. It will be coming out in The Iowa Review in the not-too-distant future. I continue to use the revision techniques I picked up in the Incubator in all of my writing.

3. Learn Advanced Craft and Revision Techniques

One of the things I’ve struggled with when writing on my own is learning how to see a story with fresh eyes, and knowing which are the best scenes to help a story and its characters achieve their maximum potential. In other words, I can get stuck figuring out how to revise a story without the input of friends. Ron taught us his four revision frameworks, and it has forever changed how I approach revision. Each framework offers a hands-on-model for helping identify the constituent parts of your story and to understand how to revise to maximize the story’s potential and impact. That’s not to say I don’t profit from feedback from my friends. I do, but Ron’s frameworks gave me greater confidence and practical tools for seeing my work more clearly on my own.

4. Ron’s Amazing Teaching Style

I’ve been a teacher myself for twenty years. I value the classroom space for what it offers in terms of a unique opportunity to learn. I also value the kind of energy and wisdom a skilled instructor can bring to the classroom and develop in and with their students. Ron MacLean is an energetic, engaged, and inspiring teacher. I appreciate the way he deftly led our conversations as a careful listener and as a deft conductor when the conversation required such a leader. His mini-lectures on craft always helped me better understand the art of writing and how authors were accomplishing what they were accomplishing in their fiction. I still have Ron’s handout on the creative process taped to the wall next to my computer. It encourages you to be risky and generous when you start a new piece, and ruthless when you revise and edit. I also still hear him repeatedly, and helpfully, asking: “What are the key moments in your characters’ journey? Do you have them on the page?” Finally, I will be ever grateful for something Ron did that I’ve never experienced before in the classroom. At the halfway point, he had each of us write a short letter to all of our classmates highlighting a thing or two we thought each other did well. On crap days (we all have crap days in writing, but the key is not to let them overwhelm you), I will often pull those letters out and have my classmates’ words inspire me. It’s a lovely treat. 

5. Build community and your writerly network

While writing is often something that happens in isolation, it is also a social activity. You need, that is, peers to inspire you, to make you push for more, and to offer you feedback. Spending eight months in a course like the Short Story Incubator gives you a chance to build such a community. I found that my classmates were often in communication with me outside of class, sending links to relevant podcasts, recommending a story they thought might help with what I was working on, and hanging out and talking about writing and life. Moreover, the class helped me identify a person I know will be one of my lifelong readers. In addition, I really appreciated that the course culminated with attendance at GrubStreet’s wonderful Muse and the Marketplace conference, where I picked up even more great writing tips and found more writing friends. Success is all about community and finding your people.

The Short Story Incubator is an a competitive, accessible – and repeatable – MFA-level course, spanning 8 months, for ten short story writers from all backgrounds who want to move their stories from “workshop good” to publishable quality. We are now accepting applications for the next phase of the Short Story Incubator, 2019 - 2020. The submission deadline is Monday, July 15th, and there are fellowships available. Apply today!

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About the Author

Ralph E. Rodriguez is the author of Latinx Literature Unbound: Undoing Ethnic Expectation (Fordham UP, 2018) and Brown Gumshoes: Detective Fiction and the Search for Chicana/o Identity (University of Texas Press, 2005; winner of the MLA Best Book Prize in Latina/o and Chicana/o Studies, 2006). His current book projects include a collection of short stories called "The Music Inside You," a novel titled "The Thing With Feathers, " and a collection of personal literary essays "Hammers & Home."

See other articles by Ralph Rodriguez


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