Schedule & Curriculum
Outline of the Memoir Incubator Year
The year begins on in June, and will be divided into three sections. In the first, lasting eleven weeks, writers will receive craft lessons and intensive workshopping of their manuscript pages, considered alongside the synopsis. The second section, lasting fifteen weeks, will be devoted to in-depth analysis of the memoir form, with special attention paid to structure and the art of excerpting material into brief essays. Each writer will be workshopped three times. We’ll separate the second and third sections with a one-month period of intense writing. Then we’ll reconvene for a third section, lasting ten weeks, in which each writer’s full set of manuscript pages are again workshopped.
Before the first class, all writers will read one published memoir in common, to be determined in advance by the instructor. With the instructor’s assistance, writers will continue to identify books that will be particularly helpful to them in crafting their own memoir as the year unfolds, and will be expected to continue reading widely.
The first session will be held on or near June 4th. As the year progresses, this schedule may change to accommodate student and instructor availability. (In some cases, classes may meet for an intensive, 6- or 12-hour weekend and not again for a few weeks.)
Phase One (9 Weeks): June 3rd - August 5th, 2019
A poet writes always of his personal life… [but] he is never the bundle of accident and incoherence that sits down to breakfast; he has been reborn as an idea, something intended, complete.” – W. B. Yeats
The aim of this section of the class will be to learn to see and separate what Vivian Gornick calls the “situation” of the memoir (the plot, or the events the memoir is strung together from) from the memoir’s “story” (“the emotional experience that preoccupies the writer: the insight, the wisdom, the thing one has come to say”). Making story from situation is key to the reaching for the kind of truth that makes one person’s life interesting and illuminative to the reading stranger, the fundamental obligation of the literary memoir. This process also requires that the writer fashion herself into a literary persona, as Yeats realized.
At the first class meeting, we will discuss the memoir read in common, beginning to isolate craft concepts that will be explored in greater depth in the weeks to come and beginning to establish a common vocabulary and set of aims for the literary memoir. We will analyze how the writer established herself as construct, for example, and introduced the reader to the world she created. Throughout this first 11-week section of the class writing exercises designed to begin the process of allowing the writers to see their own work is this craft-based, analytical way will be periodically assigned and discussed.
Common vocabulary and aims thus begun, we will move on to the workshopping of student work. Each of the ten weeks to come will be split between a craft lesson (on topics such as voice, character, etc.) and intensive discussion of a single class manuscript.
All writers will also meet with the instructor for three hours during this period. This time may be split into two meetings or three as the writer prefers.
This phase also includes one 6-hour Saturday session to be scheduled at a time that works for the instructor and the students. This session will further the process of isolating craft concepts from the memoir read in common and practicing those concepts as they apply to the writers’ own works.
Phase Two (15 weeks): September 9th - December 16th, 2019
Plans are nothing; planning is everything. – Dwight D. Eisenhower
One of the most important skills the memoirist must learn is to see her book as a book, and understand how the parts will work in concert with each other. This involves not being wedded to a particular plan or vision for the book—for often as the memoirist writes and digs deeper into the material of her life, she will realize that the story means something other than what she first thought, and so she must rethink the structure to highlight the new understanding—but a willingness to see what the story really is, even if it means work ahead.
It is, therefore, not the plan for the book that is important, but rather the ability to plan, for it is the latter that keeps the memoirist writing, always knowing where she is headed next. Successful memoirists (and successful Generals—see above) are the ones that engage in a symbiotic process of creating and assessing. To this end, this portion of the class will focus on structure, one of the most important and least understood aspects of the literary memoir. We will read one memoir in common during this class period, but also look at the structure of many other memoirs, through analytical synopses provided by the instructor.
During this class period, the idea of excerpting a smaller section of the book for publication as an essay will also be introduced. Doing so will provide the writer the chance to practice structure on a smaller scale, as well as make use of material that may be moving to the background of the larger work. All students will work on creating an excerpted or adapted essay, which they will workshop alongside their chapter submissions.
We will meet fifteen times in this section of the course, workshopping each writer three times over the course period. Workshops will focus on new chapters but will also include the essays mentioned above. Three hours of instructor meeting time per student writer is included in this section. Instructor attention will be focused on spurring each student towards a complete manuscript. Students are expected to write intensively throughout the class year.
Second Reader Developmental Consultation
During the latter half of Phase Two each writer will submit up to 300 manuscript pages for feedback to a second reader chosen for publishing expertise and fit with the writer’s work. This second reader -- an established author with experience developing and revising his/her own memoir and working with aspiring and emerging memoirists -- will offer objective developmental guidance of the draft. The student and the instructor will then incorporate the second reader's feedback into the plans for revision.
The class will not meet regularly between January 28th and February 25th in order to give the writers a break from critiquing each others’ work and a chance to focus on their own writing as we head into the home stretch.
During this period, all writers will have had their developmental consultations with their Second Reader. After the consultations, they will then confer with the instructor to come up with a personalized plan in anticipation of the final workshop round.
Writers are also asked to each read a memoir that is structurally similar to their project. The instructor will have provided suggestions on this before this point in the year, as well as discussed how to find other structurally similar memoirs.
Phase Three (10 weeks): January 27th - April 6th, 2020
It’s all in the art. You get no credit for the living. – V.S. Naipaul
Each week, we will workshop one writer in full, both her manuscript and her excerpted essay. Writers will be encouraged to submit a full manuscript, and they will have been working with this goal in mind throughout the year. Workshops will focus on the art of the storytelling at both the macro (book) and (sentence) micro levels, continuing the arc of the course that began with the first period. Other class time will be devoted to lessons and exercises on effective synopsis writing, effective agent query letter writing, guest speakers, and further discussion of revision, including line-editing. Three hours of instructor meeting time per student writer is included in this section.
Post-Muse Final Meeting (6 hours): Date TBD
Each writer will meet privately with the instructor for an extended two-hour meeting at which the writer will have the chance to discuss the year, her Muse meeting, where her memoir now stands, and plans for the writing work ahead of her. The class will then convene one last time with a two-fold purpose: first, we will discuss the array of literary world opportunities available to the writers, to keep their work going. Then, writers will discuss with the group where they each stand and will declare their intended next steps to the group, making the commitments that will spur their books to publishable completion.