The oppressive heat of summer gave way just a bit over the weekend, and I felt the first hint of cooler weather. It was enough to turn my mind to the fall and all the back-to-school habits this season ingrained in me throughout the years (and years!) of my education. Unfortunately, I don’t have a professor laying out a syllabus of lectures, readings, and assignments that will have me rolling into December a better writer. Nope. I’ve just got me. But lucky for you, you’ve got me, too, and I’ve put together a syllabus that will keep me on track for the next four months, at least. Feel free to copy it and tweak it to fit your own needs and schedule.
The first component of any good class is the lecture. I’ve had a number of writing podcasts I’ve listened to over the years, but the one I’ve stuck with through it all is Writing Excuses. This season each of the hosts is taking turns leading a master class on a topic of their choosing, and the result is excellent.
Writing Excuses Podcast
Why is school better than independent study? Classmates! My school memories don’t center around lectures but rather the relationships I built with friends along the way, so my self-designed syllabus definitely includes peer interactions.
Participate in weekly WriteOwls check-in for writing accountability
Participate in monthly critique group
Books on writing never cease to provide me with inspiration and practical advice on how to improve my craft. I have a stable of favorites that I return to, but I have several on my TBR list that it’s high time I sat down in read, so they’ll act as the textbooks for my semester. I’ve structured my deadlines so that I can focus on my reading during holidays when I know I typically don’t get a lot of writing done. That way I won’t let my head get out of the game.
The core of a writing class is the writing, so most of my assignments focus on this aspect. During the course of the semester I intend to complete a draft of my WIP, get the first 30 pages critiqued, polish the entire manuscript, and submit it to 10 agents. I’ve broken my assignments into the components necessary to get this work done and scheduled writing time into my week, taking into account my other obligations. If I follow my schedule, I should get 5-7 dedicated writing hours per week, plus whatever other time I can scrounge.
Complete current revision of WIP
Send first thirty pages out for critique
Polish first 30 pages
Polish query letter
Polish remaining pages
Submit manuscript to 10 agents (includes selecting agents)
When I first wrote down my goals for the semester, it was a longer list than what made it into the final syllabus. Putting writing time on my calendar and being realistic about what I can accomplish with my time made me realize that I just couldn’t get it all done in the time I have set aside. That doesn’t mean I can’t do it all. It just means I can’t do it all this semester. But no worries. That’s the beauty of self-education—there’s always another semester.
Goals for next semester:
Finish outline of next manuscript
The act of sitting down, writing out my goals, and then actually putting them on the calendar forced me to consider what time I’m committing to writing and make a firm plan for how to accomplish my goals. If you’re feeling adrift in your writing process or discouraged about ever actually finishing your manuscript, consider drawing up your own syllabus. It’s a process that’s brought my writing goals and realities into sharp focus, and I highly recommend the clarity that follows.