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Writing/Reading Resources

Writing/Reading Resources

5 Ways the Memoir Incubator Changed My Life

By Catherine Guthrie

The Memoir Incubator is an MFA-level course, spanning 12 months, for ten memoir writers interested in drafting, developing or revising their memoir drafts, a comprehensive craft-based study of the memoir form, and, as appropriate, a thoughtful introduction to the memoir publishing market. We are now accepting applications for the next phase of the Memoir Incubator, 2023 - 2024. The submission deadline is Wednesday, April 3, 2024, at 11:59PM ET, and there are fellowships available. Apply today!

In the five months since the release of my memoir, FLAT: Reclaiming My Body From Breast Cancer, few people have asked me how I learned to write a memoir. I suppose it’s because I’m a journalist and people assume if you can write an article, you can write a memoir. Oh, but how I wish that was true! For years I’d watched journalist friends – people more skilled and more advanced in their careers than myself – try to bridge the gap between journalism and memoir writing. They had compelling ideas and solid writing chops. And, yet, publishers didn’t bite. Clearly, a sellable memoir hinged upon more than clear prose and a solid story. But what? In 2012, that question led me to GrubStreet, and in 2014 I started the Memoir Incubator looking for answers. Whoa, Nelly, did I find answers!

1) Without a doubt…the Memoir Incubator experience was key to selling my book.

Yes, I worked hard, and, yes, I am a good writer. But I am convinced I would not have gotten a book deal with a traditional publisher without my experience in the Memoir Incubator. The Memoir Incubator gave me an immersive, nine-month-long classroom experience where the sole focus was mastering the craft of literary memoir. I left every classroom lecture with my mind blown. As a journalist, I’d never had to write round characters, develop dialogue that advances the plot, and think about the ladder of abstraction. Craft classes left me giddy as I stretched my writer muscles in new directions. And, in the end, the course made me a better journalist, which was an unexpected perk.

2) Connected me to a cohort of memoirists.

As the adage goes, misery loves company and, well, there is a lot of misery in writing a memoir. Memoirists reveal our innermost secrets to the world. We must excavate our pain and arrange it on the page. Going down that road alone is ill-advised. But where can you find a crop of people as daring, as determined, and as driven to tell their truth as you? Your cohort becomes your family. By the end of the year, you’ll share an unbreakable bond. Of course, some families drift apart, but many others stick together. Upon graduation from the Memoir Incubator in the spring of 2015, a number of students in my cohort formed a writing group. We met monthly — in my living room — for the next two years to exchange feedback and encouragement. I took a hiatus when my book came out, but our little group is still meeting and lavishing one another with unconditional love and support in ways only family members do.

3) Demystified the literary marketplace.

From an outsider’s perspective, the literary world is a walled city with foreign customs, languages, and traditions. I was clueless about things other writers seemed to understand, like how to submit essays to literary journals, how to find writers residencies, and how to pitch my book. The Memoir Incubator opened the door to a literary world I would never have found on my own. I learned essential skills, like how to find the best literary journals for my work, how to write an artist’s statement for a residency application, and how to give an elevator pitch for my memoir. The Memoir Incubator gave me firsthand experience pitching to agents at Grub Street’s annual conference, The Muse & The Marketplace. No doubt the coaching and the hutzpah I gained at The Muse paid off because a few weeks later I landed my dream agent with the pitch I’d developed in class!

4) Buoyed me through my book launch.

When my memoir, FLAT, launched last fall, a small army of Memoir Incubator Alums and current students mobilized on my behalf to promote my book. Folks generously wrote lavish reviews on Amazon, tweeted about my readings, and posted my events to Facebook. On the night of my launch at Porter Square Books, my Memoir Incubator peeps and folks from Grub packed the room creating a sea of friendly faces that met me when I arrived and calmed my nerves during my reading. My book launch is when it hit me — not only did I have an immediate family in my cohort, but I had an extended family made up of seven years of Memoir Incubator students and alums who were thrilled to celebrate my accomplishment. This community buoyed me through my book launch and beyond, and I can’t wait to pay it forward when other graduates get published.

5) Gave me a community for life.

Okay, this is going to sound super cheesy but…graduating from the Memoir Incubator was more of a beginning than an ending. Naturally, the success and sustainability of the program means staying involved and giving back. But the benefits go both ways. Staying connected to the Memoir Incubator keeps me plugged into Grub Street. Grub Street is like having an endless supply of writerly energy and inspiration on tap! Whether I’m taking a one-day seminar or simply running into Grubbies at local literary events, being a part of a bigger literary community feels good and combats the isolation of writing. So, I began by mentoring a student in the next year’s Memoir Incubator. Soon after, I was a member of the jury that read and evaluated applicants for the incoming cohort. I exchanged manuscript drafts with another Memoir Incubator alum, someone from another year. (Alums make natural readers because we all shared a language specific to the Incubator and knew how to give great feedback.) And, last year, I helped start the Memoir Incubator Alum Board. Although I had to step off to promote my book, I’m excited about hopping back on in 2019, and getting involved in our Tell-All series — a local reading series devoted to all things memoir. My hope is that, in the coming year, I’ll have a hand in planning Alum-only events such as a writing retreat and advanced craft classes.

If you are on the fence about whether or not to apply to the Memoir Incubator, I hope you’ll take a risk and toss your hat in the ring. You have nothing to lose and…whoa, Nelly…so much to gain.

The submission deadline is Wednesday, April 3, 2024, at 11:59PM (ET), and there are fellowships available. Apply today to the Memoir Incubator!

This post was originally published on February 14th, 2019.

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