Novel Generator: The Journey of a Lifetime
Maria Picone writes about her journey in the Novel Generator and why she would encourage you to apply and not self-reject. The Novel Generator is a nine-month program designed to help students at all levels complete (or make substantial progress toward completing) a first draft of a novel in an environment that offers support, accountability and feedback appropriate to this early stage in the novel-writing process. We are now accepting applications for the Spring 2023 generator, which will be taught by Elizabeth Santiago. Apply here by Monday, December 12th at 11:59pm (EST). Fellowships are available!
It was like a reality TV show; we came from all across the country, and different walks of life. Unlike most reality shows, though, we were there to support each other, and so was our instructor, Marjan Kamali, one of the warmest and most kind-hearted (but effective!) writing teachers I have ever had.
A lot of naïve assumptions about novels, novel writing, and publishing got swept away in the process, but what replaced it was determination and resolve to see it through to the end.
We were fourteen people, plus Marjan, who were open to everything the Generator—and life during the nine months of the program—threw at us. To me, the Generator, in a nutshell, is a long journey you undertake with good companions, all of whom are committed to the cause in various ways and bring their wonderful personalities and expertise to the cohort. Sometimes you are the Frodo and sometimes you are the Sam. Sometimes you feel like the comic relief and sometimes you get to be the wizard. Not all of us, including me, finished our novels, but I believe we all made breakthroughs as writers and human beings. So many of us had doubts about starting a novel, let alone finishing one. Together we beat back the specter of impostor syndrome, discussed the novel process from first idea to agenting and publication, laughed, cried, Slacked, and Zoomed in our virtual communities. A lot of naïve assumptions about novels, novel writing, and publishing got swept away in the process, but what replaced it was determination and resolve to see it through to the end. We are all leaving the program wiser, more dedicated, and more confident in our projects.
As a full-time freelancer and literary magazine editor who does not live in a major urban area, as well as a poet, I love taking workshops to hone my craft, generate new work, and be in community with other writers. The Novel Generator was all that and more, and it was perfect for me—a lot of other novel programs require you to read and sometimes even give written feedback on long submission packets, something that I didn’t have time to do. Although I still struggled mightily with finding time to write my novel (more about that in a moment), I appreciate the Generator’s format.
For our workshop time, both with the whole group and in our smaller groups, we could choose what we wanted to focus on and whether we wanted to give written feedback along with oral responses. The feedback and individual attention to our work we received was still instrumental in helping us push forward and make new discoveries about our world, characters, plot, etc., that we could keep in mind as we continued drafting. The attitude was open, like a startup incubator where you throw ideas at the wall, get advice, and learn what works and doesn't work so you can continue innovating. The workshopping was inclusive, authentic, and constructive.
Although I have an MFA in fiction, I always felt that I lacked the knowledge to really write a novel and bring it into the world. The Generator was the missing piece in my writing journey that helped me feel like a novelist and believe in myself enough to where I’m now thinking about the next novel, not just this one! In the past, as a hobby, I wrote short fiction and novels for “fun.” Going to the MFA program was a chance to become a “real” writer (in my naïve eyes). Even though I worked on my craft and learned a lot, I still felt like there were a lot of gaps in my knowledge. I started writing short fiction to build publication credits and pivoted to flash and poetry, putting my novel(s) on the shelf and counting myself yet another failed novelist who would never revisit the subject. In the intervening years, though, I learned a lot about myself and the world. It made me want to revisit the project again and decolonize it at the root, which was the start of a little idea worm that has now grown into a project I’m genuinely excited about.
Honestly, I almost didn’t apply to the Generator, waffling over whether I just felt like working on my novel again out of a whim and assuming I would never be accepted to the program. I remember clearly that I had left my application to the last minute because of my doubts and a desire to see if I could polish the first pages and decolonize them. Instead, I procrastinated, had a long workday, and ended up frantically writing my application and turning it in right at the deadline.
The Novel Generator accepts a wide spread of writers, but everyone is impressive in their own way, which is why I was terrified to be in the program. I was so convinced I would be “found out” as a fake. But I quickly got over my intimidation as we discussed each other’s books and fell in love with each other’s projects. Getting six weeks of craft discussion at the beginning was a good way to get to know everyone and plan to write, and having the whole-group workshops where everyone could hear and react to each other’s thoughts was also fantastic. I believe that stage of the program also helped Marjan put our small groups of four to five people together, because she could see whose projects were resonating and what the group dynamics were like. Although we missed seeing everyone each week, having fewer projects to focus on allowed us to start building in-depth knowledge about each book and each person in the group, which made the feedback even more valuable and deepened our bonds within the program.
Writing a novel isn’t a linear progression—it takes a lot of digressions, revisions, and careful thought, and sometimes it feels as though you are going backward to move forward.
Throughout the nine months, finding the time to write was my Achilles heel. Although I don’t always write full drafts of flash and poems in one sitting, I can make good progress even when I have five, ten, fifteen minutes to write. With the novel, I found out that I need a long time to focus deeply on the project (two or three hours at once!), which continues to be my biggest obstacle. When I entered the program, despite being nervous about the whole process, I had resolved to finish my book by the end. Today, although I am still writing this current draft, I do so happily because I have found a strong voice, overall direction, and plot specifics that are guiding me through the middle of the novel—I want to do it right, not quickly. My small group has taken a slight break for the summer but in August we will be meeting on our own each week. As such I’m more than confident that I will finish; in fact I have faith that I will do so. I’ve learned that for me, writing a novel isn’t a linear progression—it takes a lot of digressions, revisions, and careful thought, and sometimes it feels as though you are going backward to move forward.
I would not be where I am today without the Generator program. As someone who almost didn’t get this opportunity due to self-doubt, I encourage you to apply and not self-reject. It’s a challenging, frustrating, wonderful, exhilarating experience with a community of friends. I’m looking forward to when the first person from our cohort gets published and I can’t wait to read all the amazing books the Generator has put into the world.
Applications for the Spring 2023 generator, taught by Elizabeth Santiago, are open. Apply here by Monday, December 12th at 11:59pm (EST). Learn more about the program and how to apply here.
This blog post was originally published on June 29, 2022.
Maria S. Picone has an MFA from Goddard College. She is a Korean adoptee who grew up in Massachusetts and has also resided in Maine, New Jersey, Texas, Florida, Colorado, and South Carolina, where she currently lives. In 2008, she returned to South Korea to explore her heritage. She has an MA in Philosophy from Rice University, and an MA in Interdisciplinary Studies (Writing and Political Science) from Western New Mexico University. Her work including poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, visual art, and translation has been published in many literary magazines such as Fractured Lit, Porter House Review, Tahoma Literary Review, and The Seventh Wave. She is writing a book based on her MFA thesis, thanks in part to the Novel Generator and a full-length collection of poetry. Her debut chapbook, Sky Sea Edict, will be published in late 2022. She is Chestnut Review and The Petigru Review's Managing Editor, Associate Editor at Uncharted Mag and Poetry Editor at Hanok Review.See other articles by Maria Picone