Last December, while in the middle of Grub Street’s year-long MFA-level intensive called the Memoir Incubator, my writing teacher asked my class to draft a letter to our future selves, to be mailed to her and returned to each of us after graduation. At the time, I was struggling with how much I had on my plate – all of the reading and writing for the course, in addition to contemplating major life changes, parenting four children, and negotiating the holidays during a pandemic. I didn’t want another assignment. I dashed off something rather quickly on my computer and mailed it off to my teacher.
Months later, my little ditty of a letter brought me to tears as I read it again. How true that the passage of time adds poignancy to the most mundane events. How true that simple language and short sentences can reveal the condition of our hearts. As busy as last year was, and as nervous as I was standing at that podium during my graduation reading, I would do it again. I would start as soon as possible.
Here’s what I wrote:
December 28, 2021
By now, you have finished slashing and shaping your manuscript for your second reader. Tonight, it feels like you’re stalled at a page count of 367. Tonight, you are distracted by whether you should buy a new house, more your family, apply to private middle school for your daughter, or simply whether you should call your parents.
I hope as you’re reading this that you have crossed those finish lines that seem impossible right now – that you were able to cut down the manuscript and send it to Tracy Slater, that you were able to continue to meet with your writing group, that you were able to sign up for an agent or editor meeting, that you were able to revise your manuscript for class (AND take your family to DisneyWorld!). I hope you enjoyed the Muse and the Marketplace after waiting two years to go!
This has been so much work. You have done so much work already. This work has taken you away from friends more than you would have liked. This work has forced you to revisit the worst parts of yourself, and the times in your life that you wish you could change. It has been time-consuming and emotionally dangerous.
When all of this is over, don’t feel sad. You had been waiting years to take this course, and now you have done it! Whatever happens, your work can’t be taken away from you. If you need time now to read or purge the basement or move or print out photos or check in with friends or go for a run, take that time. I hope you’re watching your sons play Little League. I hope the kids are all swimming through the spring. I hope you’re out in the sunshine, soaking up the promise of summer.
There will always be more to write, more to research, more to connect with. Take a moment. Take a breath. It’s okay. You did this. You helped your classmates. You got to edit and comment and shape stories. You got to do this for an entire year.
May there be other years like this one.
9/3/2022 12:07:48 pm
So beautiful, Caroline. I’m so glad you were able to do the Memoir Incubator and I can’t wait to read more of your work. If you have tips for how you were able to shove aside concerns of household / family / life to sit down and write, please let me know. I need to work on my project and don’t know how to let things slide…and slide and slide.
9/5/2022 02:00:18 pm
Hi Kristin! Thank you for reading! I'm afraid I let things slide quite a bit and worked during the school day hours like the course was my full time job. But, I do think it's possible to make progress on your project with only one or two writing sessions a week. A writing session could be as short as 15 minutes. If I were you, I would brainstorm a list of scenes that you see as essential to being in the book and also a list of scenes that might be possibilities for the book. I would also make a list of characters and a list of small things you might research (as you write a scene, maybe you need to look up what temperature it typically is that time of year, or whether there was a convenience store on the corner, or what the particulars of that world/town are). Following the advice of a woman who spoke at the Muse conference this year, beware of research rabbit holes and keep any research very focused to what is necessary for the text. Then, during your writing sessions, pick something from your list (scene, character, research) and write. Build your book like "islands" over time -- Mary Carroll Moore writes about this, about how as you write what needs to be there, the book will eventually take shape. No need to start at the first line on page one and write through to the end. Let it be messy. Write what comes to you. Just generate. Don't be concerned about whether anything makes the cut. Once you have a stack of pages or a long document or fill a notebook, you'll start to feel some momentum. I hope you do dig in. I can't wait to hear how it goes!!!
9/3/2022 12:53:27 pm
Congratulations Caroline on finishing your course and work. Keep writing and sharing with us.
9/5/2022 02:01:35 pm
Thank you so much, Aunt Bonnie! Your reading and encouragement mean so much to me!
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