Wouldn’t it be great if writing a novel could be like playing team sport? How great would it be to have teammates jumping up and down on the sidelines cheering for you, or running to your side if you got hurt? For most novelists—especially first-time or unestablished writers—reality looks much different. Instead of a throng of cheering fans, we are lucky if we have a dog sitting at our feet while we write.
When I started working on my first novel, I craved the camaraderie of a team. I wanted a coach and drills and discipline. I needed someone to care when I finished that first draft or finally nailed that tricky scene. Someone other than my dogs, that is.
In my quest to find a writing community, I applied to the Novel Incubator program run by GrubStreet, a writer’s organization based in Boston. Every year the Novel Incubator chooses ten authors from a competitive applicant pool. Together with instructor Michelle Hoover, those ten writers spend a grueling year revising and polishing their books.
I feel incredibly grateful I was accepted into the program in 2017. I revised my full manuscript three times during my Incubator year, and I critiqued my nine classmates’ manuscripts three times each. That amounts to thirty manuscripts in a year, in addition to weekly craft lessons, outside readings, homework exercises, and essays. There were late nights, early mornings, and more than a few tears.
I learned how to pitch my book, write a query letter, and talk to agents (without hyperventilating.)
Then, just when I was starting to feel confident, we graduated from the Incubator and Michelle pushed us out of the nest. I was scared.
Part of my Incubator tuition included admission to The Muse and the Marketplace, a large writer’s conference hosted by GrubStreet every spring. The Incubator hosted meet ups at the Muse for Incubator graduates to connect with agents and editors.
I attended the Muse with my cohort of Incubator grads (the Inkies), sad to have completed the program, wondering how I would survive in the publishing world on my own. But I quickly realized that I was no longer alone.
My classmates were right there, jumping up and down cheering for me. I was no longer writing by myself with my dogs. I was part of that team I had always longed for.
I pitched my book at that conference (and did not hyperventilate.) When I signed with an agent I met at The Muse, the Inkies lifted me up on their shoulders and carried me around Boston Common for a victory lap. (Okay, I made that part up, but it felt that way.) And when I’ve stumbled over rejections, my classmates have been the first ones to help me back up.
When Desmond Hall, the first in my Incubator cohort to sign a book deal, announced he had a two-book contract earlier this year, I couldn’t have felt prouder. Des is part of my team. It was a win for all of us.
In addition to being supportive, these programs produce successful writers. I can’t speak to the publication rates of other programs, but the Des is the fourteenth Novel Incubator to sign a publishing contract.
I feel myself getting sentimental (possibly mushy) when I talk about the Novel Incubator. I don’t have enough words to express my gratitude, not only for the elements of craft I learned and for the support I’ve found, but also for the team I became a part of.
When I tell other writers about the program, I sense a longing in them. They want to be part of a tight community too. [Read more…]