Online Course

Spiritual Writing

July 12 - August 15

Level Fundamentals

Find the balance between the personal and the powerful, and learn how to share your thoughts with readers of differing beliefs or traditions.

Additional Information

This class will ask what, if anything, can make nonfiction writing “spiritual.” You will read selections from essays and memoirs in the spiritual writing genre and try composing your own versions of this material. How can we write about something so personal and powerful and share it with an audience of differing beliefs or traditions? How do writers move beyond saccharine sentimentality to illuminate a truth? You will choose a spiritual question or subject to explore in depth by writing two 500-word pieces and one article/essay of up to 4,000 words. The course will provide tips and inspiration for getting started, gathering material, and revising your work for publication. Writers from all backgrounds and faiths are welcome.

Course Schedule

Week 1: Shaping the Spiritual

This week will cover how writers working in the genre might define and describe “spiritual writing.” You'll take a look at how the body, culture, or identity might shape the parameters of a story or your approach. We’ll also explore the ways in which writing itself can serve as spiritual practice, both playful and prayerful. To get the juices flowing, you will have the option to write a short piece (up to 500 words) to share with the class, and you will choose a subject for your primary assignment.

Week 2: Framing the “I” in Faith

You'll confront challenges of placing individual perspectives of faith—so close to the heart—on the page as art. Often, we do not speak of spiritual or religious subjects because they can be just as divisive as inclusive, as sappy as salient. How can you mine your relationship to belief without alienating readers or losing the complexity that marks lived experience, particularly in the realm of emotion? You'll consider how form, voice, or narrative distance can frame such issues in creative ways. In preparation for the primary assignment, you will have the option to write another short piece (up to 500 words) to share with the class.

Week 3: Engaging the Other

Spiritual writing often engages people, places, or things that perplex, disturb, or mystify, and that draw us out of ourselves. Whether you face a religious institution’s complicated history, a family tradition, a desert, or a baffling stranger, you encounter uncertainty in stuff seen and unseen. You’ll imagine how to embrace such tensions with the “Other” in your work, and the ways in which you might incorporate disparate backdrops or backgrounds without losing the personal element or narrative momentum. You will also submit your primary assignment (an essay/article of up to 4,000 words).

Week 4: Speaking to You

Martin Buber writes that you “not only speak of God but also speak to him,” and Madeleine L’Engle adds that you don’t love in general, you love in particular—to live a spiritual life means risking closer communion with each other, with the earth, with the divine. You’ll study how writers might embody such desire—and its difficulties—through character or charism, prophecy or plea. You will also have the option of sharing your primary assignment with a small group of classmates for peer review.

Week 5: Re-Seeing and Representing Your Work

This week will cover techniques to revise and sharpen a spiritual writing piece to make it ready for publication. We’ll discuss best practices for submitting work to journals but also consider the bigger picture: allowing for risk and even failure, loving the roadblocks, and sustaining a practice.

View Complete Syllabus

Course Instructor

Course Registration

Early Registration ends 06/15/2021 $310.00 $260.00

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Please Note

It is not uncommon for classes to fill up before the end of early registration, particularly in the last few days before the deadline. If you know for certain that you wish to take a particular class, we recommend registering early. If you'd like to be added to a waitlist for a sold-out class, please email our director of education, Sharla Yates, at [email protected].

Hear from Our Students

Creative Nonfiction's online writing classes have helped more than 3,000 writers tell their stories better.

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I truly enjoyed and profited from the [Approaching Mystery] class. The readings and lectures were stimulating as were the feedback and conversations. The prompts took me to new places in my personal narrative writing.

Linda Corey

Education FAQs

  • What day and time is my class?

    Our courses run asynchronously; meaning, you will NOT need to be online at any particular time. Assignments for CNF classes are given on a weekly basis; you should submit each assignment by a given deadline, but in most classes you will have at least an entire week to complete the assignment. We realize that our students live in many different areas and have different work schedules, so classes are designed to be flexible. Courses feature one live conference session, which does require that you be online at a particular time; however, participation in this session is completely optional, and instructors make an effort to offer times that can accommodate most students. This is scheduled by the instructor after class begins.If you are not able to participate in the live conference you will still be able to view a recording of it during the remaining weeks of the class. Please note that there are no video conferences in boot camp courses.

  • What makes CNF’s online courses different from other online programs?

    Some online programs work on a “synchronous” model, which requires you to be online at an assigned time each week. The asynchronous model used in our classes means that you do not have to be online at any particular time of day, and can approach the class assignments at your own pace throughout the week based on your schedule. While some optional events, such as class video conferences, do take place at a specific time, the majority of class activities can be completed according to your schedule.

    Intimate Classes
    Classes are small—limited to 14 students per section—which means you’ll receive individual attention and feedback on your work.

    Experienced Instructors
    Good writing instructors not only need to be skilled writers, but also need to have experience in teaching what they know to others. That’s why all of our instructors are professional writers with extensive teaching experience.

    Substantial and Meaningful Writing Assignments
    Many online writing programs ask you to complete short writing exercises each week, and only near the end of the class are you invited to write a single essay or chapter. At Creative Nonfiction, we recognize the value of exercises, but also believe that completing an essay or chapter is the best way for developing writers to really explore how all the elements of creative nonfiction work together. Writing complete pieces also leaves you with a sense of accomplishment and with work that you can share when the class is completed. For this reason, in our classes you are invited to submit longer essays multiple times during a course. See course syllabus for more information.

    Sense of Connection
    We realize that it is difficult to find one’s writing community—which is why we now offer every new student membership to a Community Page where you can meet with other CNF students, during and after class.

  • When do you offer courses? How long are they?

    Our terms include 5- and 10-week courses and run in fall (September-December), winter (January-March), and spring (April-June). In summer (June-July), we offer only 5-week courses.

  • What is the Community Page?

    Communities are forums in Wet.Ink where members can connect and interact around writing. Every online CNF student is a member of the general “Creative Nonfiction Community,” and each course includes an opportunity to join a private community with your classmates for when class is over.

  • The course I’m interested in is sold out. Is there anything I can do?

    Sometimes spaces open up as people’s schedules change. If you’d like to be added to a waitlist for a sold-out class, please contact us here.