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Schedule & Curriculum

Outline of the Memoir Incubator Year

The year begins in June, and will be divided into three phases. In the first phase, writers will read a memoir and a craft book in common and will engage in weekly craft discussions. Each writer will also have their manuscript intensively workshopped one time.

We’ll separate the first and second phases with the summer break. During this break each student will be expected to read a book that is particularly helpful to them in crafting their own memoir, and write a short craft paper.

The second phase 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 twice. We’ll separate the second and third phases with the winter break, a period of intense writing.

Then we’ll reconvene for a third phase, in which each writer’s full set of manuscript pages are again workshopped. This phase 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.

After the first break, all writers will read another 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 I Phase II Phase III

June 4th - August 13th, 2024 (11 classes)

"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 phase 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.

The first class meeting will cover introductions and logistics. In the following week, 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 the remainder of the phase, exercises may be assigned and discussed.

Each of the ten weeks to come will be split between a craft discussion (on topics such as theme, voice, character, etc.) and intensive workshop of a single manuscript.

All writers will also meet with the instructor one on one after their workshop. The one-hour meeting will take place on Zoom 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 summer break between phases one and two, in addition to working on their manuscripts, 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 or thematically similar memoirs. The class may meet once more mid-summer as desired.

September 4th - December 10th, 2024 (11 classes)

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, but a willingness to see what the story really is, even if it means work ahead. 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.

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. 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 eleven times in this phase, workshopping each writer twice over this period. Students will meet with the instructor individually following each of their workshops. Instructor attention will be focused on spurring each student towards a complete manuscript. Students are expected to write intensively throughout the class year.

January 28th – April 8th, 2025 (11 classes)

The first session in this period is designated to review everyone’s progress and final development plan. During each of the remaining ten weeks, 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 micro (sentence) levels, continuing the arc of the course that began with the first period.

Class time will also be devoted to discussion and exercises on effective synopsis writing, 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 convenient time scheduled after their workshop.

Also during this period, each writer will have developmental consultations with their Second Reader. This Second Reader will offer objective developmental guidance on the draft. The student will then incorporate that feedback into the plans for revision. After the consultations, students will confer with the instructor to come up with a personalized plan for further revision.

The dates above may shift a week or two forward or back depending on student and instructor availability, as well as the Muse Conference schedule and deadlines.

Second Reader Developmental Consultation

During Phase Two, each writer will be paired with a Second Reader, an established author with experience developing and revising their own memoir and working with aspiring and emerging memoirists. The Second Reader will be mutually chosen based on publishing expertise and fit with the writer’s work. Each student will also forge a plan to submit their full manuscript for feedback to their second reader before or during Phase Three.

Interstitial Period

The class will not meet regularly between December 11th and January 27th 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, though one mid-break class meeting may be scheduled during this period of intensive writing.

Post-Muse Final Meeting: Date TBD

Each writer will meet privately with the instructor to discuss the year, their Muse meeting, where their memoir now stands, and plans for the writing work ahead. 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.