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Creative Nonfiction Boot Camp

Complete Syllabus

You want to do it. You mean to start that writing project ... eventually. Now is the time to put excuses aside and start your writing project. Creative Nonfiction's special boot camp sessions will do just that by providing firm deadlines, writing exercises, and weekly feedback. Along the way you'll also develop the habit of writing regularly which will serve you all year long (and well beyond!). After 5 weeks, if you've completed the minimum number of assignments, you'll have an essay of between 3,000 and 6,000 words, or at least a dozen passages to use as starting points for future essays. Five weeks not enough? Sign up for a full 10 weeks of Boot Camp. Not only will you get a discounted rate, you'll also get double the deadlines and support.

How it works: The writing can be done in one of two ways. Students can choose a longer subject to write about for a week or more, and add 300 words to their essay each day. Or they can write 300 words each day in response to a writing prompt—a new prompt will be provided Monday through Thursday.

On Fridays students will choose 1,000 words from the writing they have completed during the week and send it to the instructor for feedback. During the weekend students will post a paragraph of comments on the work of at least two fellow students.

Each week provides:

  • daily prompts to help you generate new writing
  • instructor feedback on 1,000 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.

Enroll for 5 or 10 weeks »

A week-by-week outline is below; please note that students who are enrolled in the 5-Week class will only cover the first 5 weeks described below.

Week 1: Generating ideas 
During this week we will focus on finding a topic or topics that you can feel passionate about as you begin to write, and 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. If you already have a subject in mind, you can forgo the exercises and simply write 300 words per day on your chosen subject.

Week 2: Your writing life
Finding time to write and overcoming your own doubts can be two of the biggest obstacles to moving ahead with your writing. 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 the writers 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
During this week we’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
This week we’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.

Week 6: Macro-editing
The lecture this week will begin a discussion of editing with a look at the larger building blocks from which an essay is constructed, common problems in using these elements, and ways to address those problems. We will consider elements such as pacing, structure, and description.

Week 7: Micro-editing
While the big-picture elements we discussed in Week 1 are important in creating an interesting and moving essay, sentence-level language is equally important, and this command of language is one of the primary characteristics that separates the work of professional writers from that of beginners. This week we’ll look at ways to make your prose stronger in each sentence and paragraph.

Week 8: Applying feedback
Writing groups and workshops (such as the one we’re conducting in this class) can be a great source of advice and motivation for your writing, but at times feedback can also be contradictory, confusing, or discouraging (even when it’s well-intentioned). During this week we’ll discuss how best to make use of the feedback you receive from others, and how to effectively edit your own work when you don’t have access to or prefer not to work with other writers.

Week 9: 
When is it finished?
One of the things many writers struggle with in the revision process is knowing when a piece is finished. In this week’s lecture we’ll discuss best practices for evaluating your own work and deciding when a piece is ready to submit for publication.

Week 10: The publication process
In this final week we’ll discuss next steps for your work once the revision process is finished. We’ll talk about the submission process for literary journals and magazines, as well as newspapers, and will cover the basics of submitting a manuscript to literary agents.

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about this class (general FAQs are here)

Q: What if I have a busy week coming up (or I’m going out of town) and can’t post 300 words during any of the days during the week? Can I post everything on the weekend?

A: You must post 300 words per day for at least 3 out of the 5 weekdays in order to receive feedback, so posting everything at the end of the week is not an option. 

Q: Do I have to post my work at any particular time of day?

A: No. You can post your work at any time of day or night, but you must post on 3 separate days to get credit for posting 3 times in the week.

Q: What if I have a piece that I’ve already written and want feedback on that? Can I submit that for critique?

A: Creative Nonfiction Boot Camp is designed to help writers get started on a new project. If you want feedback on existing work we recommend one of our other classes.

Enroll for 5 or 10 weeks »

Questions? Check out our FAQ page or contact our Director of Education, Sharla Yates at yates[at]creativenonfiction.org.