By Judy Bolton-Fasman
I am approaching the end of my time in Grub Street’s Memoir Incubator. This is a moment of transition similar to a graduation. I will inevitably have to leave the sturdy structure that my sister incubees and I—we are nine women in this first class—have built together with our indefatigable instructor this year. No more workshopping together, no more accountability for writing two thousand words a week. I’ll be on my own. Or will I?
One of the tasks I have set for myself to prepare for my post-incubator life is to declutter my office. I have stacks of printouts of my memoir in various drafts that have been edited and commented on by my sister writers. I can be an aggressive recycler. I throw out magazines I haven’t read yet, or worse, that my family never even glimpsed. Piles of newspapers make me anxious. No matter that my husband hasn’t finished the crossword puzzle. Out goes the paper.
And yet I can’t part with these drafts, which my classmates have edited with the precision of a paper knife. I can’t bear to throw away documents containing the wisdom embedded in the idiosyncratic phrasing of their critiques. I cherish their handwritten margin notes. In this digital age of instant deletion and pixelated letters these manuscripts have become holy texts to me.
In Jewish tradition sacred documents are discarded with the greatest respect. A book or even a piece of paper that has God’s name spelled out cannot be arbitrarily thrown out. Everything from prayer books to the most mundane correspondence must go to a genizah—a trove where they are held until they can be buried ritually. My home office is a genizah where my marked-up manuscripts will be stored for further consultation.
The series of manuscript versions track my progress in the Memoir Incubator. The way they’re currently scattered on my desk and on bookshelves may give the impression that they are the detritus of my life. On the contrary, these worked on, and in some cases worked over, manuscripts are subtext. They beautifully reflect the devotion and respect that my incubator classmates have for one another and for the difficult, ongoing work of writing memoir.