To celebrate our 20th Anniversary in 2023, we’re highlighting 20 stories that have helped shape StoryStudio over the years. Each month of 2023, we’ll be featuring one or two members of our community as they share their story. Whether they came from the very first class that Jill started in 2003 when StoryStudio was just a few folding chairs and a dream, or they’re from the most recent cohort of Novel in a Year students, on their way to publishing a book; these members make StoryStudio what it is.
Below is Jasmine’s story.
Six years after graduating from my MFA, I wasn’t publishing. I was barely writing. I was beset by doubts about the worth of my voice and had let them overtake me. I was lucky enough to attend the Kundiman retreat in New York in 2019, where I received both the nourishing embrace of a writing community and the kick in the ass I needed to take myself and my work seriously again. Riding high on a renewed sense of purpose, I saw Rebecca Makkai promoting her Novel-in-a-Year program through StoryStudio and decided to take a chance on myself by applying.
I’d met Rebecca several years before. She had been the judge for a contest I ultimately placed second in. We became Twitter friends and when she was in town for an event, we had coffee and hit it off. Have you ever met someone you’re fairly certain is a genius, but they have no idea they’re operating on a higher plane than the rest of us? That’s what Rebecca is like. I knew immediately that she was someone who gave generously of her time and expertise and I should listen closely when she spoke. I followed her Twitter feed and her career avidly, relishing every recommendation and tip she gave. I watched her work with StoryStudio with some wistfulness; living far away meant I couldn’t even entertain the fantasy of attending a program in Chicago.
While writing itself is a deeply solitary endeavor, I came to realize that the support of other writers during the writing process was invaluable and, indeed, exactly what I had been missing since finishing my MFA.
However, by 2018, I had moved to St. Louis. After Kundiman, I began writing a novel in earnest, but I needed guidance. Shifting from short stories to a novel made me feel like I knew nothing about storytelling whatsoever. And, while writing itself is a deeply solitary endeavor, I came to realize that the support of other writers during the writing process was invaluable and, indeed, exactly what I had been missing since finishing my MFA. Enter Rebecca, talking up NIAY.
Making the monthly trip up to Chicago, crashing on a friend’s couch for a night before heading straight back in the morning, was a hell of a whirlwind, but every single class session was worth the time and energy it took to get me there. I often tell people that Rebecca’s craft talk on scene changed my life; it did change my writing, which amounts to the same thing.
That said, though I cherish my time with Rebecca and the lessons she imparted, the value of the Novel-in-a-Year course was not only in learning directly from such a great writer. Most writers learn quickly that our peers are ultimately who will walk alongside us over the course of our careers. My NIAY cohort was full of supportive, thoughtful writers working on a diverse array of projects from which I learned a great deal. In the end, the finest gift StoryStudio gave me was a community of serious artists who understand what it takes to get a book out, a group of writers always up for talking about craft or what we’ve been reading or our latest ideas. Dear and brilliant lifelong friends.