Course Syllabus

Creative Nonfiction Summer Boot Camp

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You want to do it. You mean to do it. You’re going to do it, really…a bit later.

It’s the summer, after all, and you’ve got the time. But somehow that writing you’ve been meaning to get around to just never seems to happen. Creative Nonfiction’s summer boot camp is a 5-week course to ensure that you will get around to that summer writing, by providing firm deadlines and weekly feedback. Along the way you’ll also develop the habit of writing regularly, which will serve you well all year long.

Each week provides:

  • daily prompts to help you generate new writing
  • instructor feedback on 800 words
  • opportunities for feedback from peers
  • discussions of assigned readings and other general writing topics with peers and the instructor

Student participation requirements to receive instructor feedback: Though the goal is to write every weekday, students will still receive instructor feedback as long as they post 300 words per day on at least 3 out of the 5 weekdays.

On Fridays you will choose 800 words from the writing you have completed during the week and send it to the instructor for feedback. During the weekend you will comment on peers’ work. A written lecture discussing the writing process and recommended reading for each week will also be provided.

In order to receive instructor feedback each week, you must complete the following activities:

1. Post 300 words per day on at least 3 out of the 5 weekdays
2. Post a paragraph of comments on the work of at least two fellow students at some point during the week or weekend.

At the end of 5 weeks, if you’ve completed all the assignments you’ll have a 4,000-word essay (or perhaps two 2,000-word essays) or 30 short passages to use as starting points for future essays (or some combination of the two).

Week 1: Generating ideas—what can I write about?

During this week the lecture will focus on finding a topic or topics that you can feel passionate about as you begin to write, as well as ways to help your readers be as excited about your subject as you are. This week’s exercises will cover a wide variety of subject matter to help you explore several different possibilities for your writing focus. Those who already have a subject in mind can forgo the exercises and simply write 300 words per day on the chosen subject.

Week 2: Your writing life—creating a schedule and a support network

Finding time to write and overcoming your own doubts can be two of the biggest obstacles to moving ahead with your work. This week’s lecture will discuss some practical approaches to addressing these problems, and the exercises will keep you writing through the week.

Week 3: Overcoming writer’s block

Almost every writer experiences writer’s block at some point in his or her career, but those who actually go on to have a career are those who find ways to fight through. This week’s lecture will focus on the potential causes of and solutions to writer’s block, and the exercises will focus on ways to continue pieces you have already begun but are having trouble finishing.

Week 4: Stretching your limits

This week you’ll discuss the ways in which experimenting with different factors—structure, unusual patterns of language, the timeline of an event—can help you to see your topic from a new angle and keep on writing. These same techniques can also bring new life to topics that are written about frequently to help your piece stand out in the crowd. The exercises for this week will ask you to stretch your limits; you are also welcome to continue working on a longer piece instead of using the prompts.

Week 5: Review, re-mix, revise

During the final week of class you’ll consider ways in which returning to familiar subject matter can serve as a catalyst for creating new work. Exercises will explore the hidden potential of well-worn subjects.