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 ten weeks, writers will read a memoir and a craft book in common and will receive weekly craft lessons. Each writer will also have their full manuscript intensively workshopped one time.

We’ll separate the first and second sections with a one-month period of intense writing, the August break. During this break they will be expected to read a book that will be particularly helpful to them in crafting their own memoir and write a short craft paper.

The second section, lasting fifteen weeks, will be devoted to in-depth analysis of the memoir form, with special attention paid to structure, world-building, and scene versus summary. Each writer will be workshopped three times. We’ll separate the second and third sections with a one-month period of intense writing, the winter break.

Then we’ll reconvene for a third section, lasting ten weeks, in which each writer’s full set of manuscript pages are again workshopped. This section will also focus on identifying sections of the manuscript that could stand alone as excerpts or essays. Visiting guest speakers will help illuminate issues around the marketplace, including writing query letters, and pitching editors and agents.

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 in early June. As the year progresses, this schedule may change to accommodate student and instructor availability.

Phase One (10 classes): June 1st - August 3rd, 2020

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 idea of the central question and the craft book read in common, beginning to isolate 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. Throughout this first 10-week section of the class, exercises designed to begin the process of allowing writers to see their own work in this craft-based, analytical way will be periodically assigned and discussed.

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 one on one after their workshop. The 45 minute meeting can take place in the hour before class or at a mutually agreed upon time. This time is used to discuss class feedback and to devise a revision plan for the writer.

Over the August break, writers are 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 Two (15 classes): September 8th - December 14th, 2020 

Plans are nothing; planning is everything. – Dwight D. Eisenhower

Note: This phase will begin on the Tuesday after Labor Day. After that, sessions will continue to meet on Monday nights. 

One of the most important skills the memoirist must learn is to see their 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 their life, they will realize that the story means something other than what they first thought, and so they 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 they is headed next. Successful memoirists are the ones that engage in a symbiotic process of creating and assessing. To this end, a 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. Students will meet with the instructor three times each over the course of 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

At the end of Phase Two each writer will submit up their full manuscript for feedback to a second reader mutually 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 will then incorporate the second reader's feedback into the plans for revision.

Interstitial Period

The class will not meet regularly between December 15th and January 24th 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.

Phase Three (10 weeks): January 25th - April 12th, 2021

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. 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.

Class time will also 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. Each student will meet with the instructor one time during this period, at a mutually conveninent time scheduled after their workshop.

Post-Muse Final Meeting (6 hours): Date TBD

Each writer will meet privately with the instructor for a one 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.

See more information about our students, our instructors and why we started this program.

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