Why We Started This Program

For years, the aspiring novelists taking workshops at GrubStreet told us they needed more time and more focused instruction to work on their books. They asked for consistent support over the long journey of revision, for a reliable group of fellow students who knew and understood the narratives they were constructing. These important needs simply cannot be met in one ten-week workshop or even a semester-long program.

Academic programs, MFAs in particular, teach the craft of fiction using the short story as a template. These programs are useful for learning the craft of short fiction, and a full course of study at the MFA level is a rich and worthy endeavor, but there is no evidence that learning to write a successful short story teaches you how to write a successful novel. In fact, it may even be counterproductive, given that the processes, aesthetics, requirements and skills of novel-writing can seem as different from story-writing as poetry is from prose. More importantly, we believe it takes at least a year to effectively revise a novel, to explore its possibilities and maximize its potential, to truly know “what it wants to be.” Along the way, students need consistent fellow readers – emerging writers and also trained eyes – who understand the world they are trying to build, who can discuss big-picture issues of character development, plots and subplots and structure alongside sentence rhythm and figurative language.

In the Novel Incubator, unfettered by the academic/semester schedule, GrubStreet has developed a program from the point of view not of the institution but of the aspiring novelist. Unique in shape, the curriculum gives students a rich, authentic and artistically valuable experience directly applicable to the specific art of novel-writing. Ours is one of the only programs where a student’s entire novel will be thoughtfully critiqued at least twice by the instructor, an objective outside reader, and classmates, and where all craft discussions and readings will be novel-centered. We want to emphasize that we are not offering a formula or advocating a particular novel aesthetic; we aim simply to investigate the various forms successful novels and apply what we learn to our own books.

Also unique to GrubStreet, the Incubator embraces the challenge of teaching a novelist strategies for navigating the marketplace to find a home for their novel once it’s ready for publication. We do not promise publication or agent representation, and we do not see either as the primary or ultimate goal of the course. However, over the years we have learned from GrubStreet students in novel workshops that most do want their books to be read as widely as possible, and so we included "marketplace education" in the curriculum. Some examples of marketplace education, which is limited to the fourth quarter of the year, include: the role of agents, how to write effective query letters, the myths and realities of self-publishing and building a platform.