Countdown to Muse 2021: Small Victories by Rebecca Makkai

The Muse and the Marketplace 2021 is almost here! This year's conference is taking the form of a virtual enhanced writing residency (taking place Wednesday, April 21st - Sunday, April 25th) with new Premium Workshops and the Manuscript Mart (taking place Wednesday, April 28th - Sunday, May 2nd).


This year's conference theme is "Small Victories." We all know what the "big" victories are (landing an agent, snagging a book deal, or getting a flashy award), but this year we aim to celebrate the equally important, tiny, and often unseen victories of our writing lives. In anticipation of the conference, we've asked Muse 2021 presenting authors to describe one small victory they've had as a writer that nobody knows about. Our next presenter in the series is Rebecca Makkai, author of The Great Believers.



In 2007, I had a newborn baby, a healing C-section, and 12 weeks off from teaching. It felt vital to me to get back to writing almost immediately, if only so I could prove to myself that I could keep going. 

I could have (probably should have) gone easy on myself—but I’d published three short stories, was finishing a deeply flawed first novel draft, and it felt like the kind of career that could go either way: Either I’d keep writing, or give up and get back to it in my 60s, wondering what I might have missed.  

Nursing was going poorly. 

At one point, my husband tried to reassure me that I was a good mother and I cried at him that I knew I was a good mother; I was just a terrible mammal. The baby would take an hour to nurse. 

I was supposed to pump every two hours. 

When I pumped, there was very little to show for it. Nevertheless, I decided that I was going to freeze enough milk that one Saturday I could leave and go to the coffee shop to write.


This took days.


And no surprise: I got there, had 90 minutes, and could not get my head back into the story I’d last touched ten weeks ago. I was sleep-deprived and frazzled and the whole endeavor felt ridiculous. 


Whatever words I wrote that day, it was a minor triumph—one I wouldn’t recognize for years. I had prioritized my writing. I’d continue to. Thirteen years (two kids, four books) later, I’m still on the road I chose that Saturday. 



Rebecca Makkai's latest novel, The Great Believers, was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award; it was the winner of the ALA Carnegie Medal, the Stonewall Book Award, the LA Times Book Prize, the Clark Fiction Prize, the Midwest Independent Booksellers Award, and the Chicago Review of Books Award; and it was one of the New York Times'; Ten Best Books of 2018. Her other books are the novels The Borrower and The Hundred-Year House, and the collection Music for Wartime – four stories from which appeared in The Best American Short Stories. Rebecca is on the MFA faculties of Sierra Nevada College and Northwestern University. She is the Artistic Director of StoryStudio Chicago. Visit her website here.



You can catch Rebecca's virtual craft discussion, "Interiority Complex," via Attendify at the Muse 2021 from 2:00 pm - 3:15 pm (EDT) on April 25th, 2021. Don't wait! Register for the Muse and the Marketplace 2021 today.

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