People often don’t realize how hard those of us in an academic community work during the year. The enviable focus is on our summers “off”—which assumes a career of leisure in higher education. I am actually on a twelve-month contract, though, so I will go in to the office every day this June and July. But, with the students gone, the pace is slow, the surroundings deliciously quiet, and I can focus on goals and priorities that I rarely get to August through May.
June and July equal hope in my world. I start looking forward to these summer months in December, start planning what I will do with this time in January, make my reservations and pay my deposits by February. All this planning is what gets me through the incredibly hectic winter and spring that lies ahead.
This summer writing is my priority. Here’s a glimpse of my plan-of-action:
- Online Classes: I’ve been considering taking some online writing classes as a convenient and fairly inexpensive way to challenge myself, get feedback, and generate new work. There are lots of places to take online writing classes. I’ve explored the Gotham Writer’s Workshops, The Loft, and Creative Nonfiction’s classes. I decided to sign up for Creative Nonfiction’s Summer Bootcamp because I like how they structured the class as well as the fact that it would require me to write and submit daily assignments. I am also taking a class on blogging (The Clumsy Blogger’s Workshop) that I discovered through the RevGalBlogPals community. I hope to learn more about utilizing the blog medium through this course and instill a good habit of writing and posting weekly. Remember that quote from John McPhee? “Writing teaches writing.”
- Writing Conference: Every summer since moving to Illinois I have enjoyed a week at the Iowa Summer Writer’s Festival in Iowa City. This summer, though, a new conference caught my attention and I decided to sign up for it instead. This July I’ll be attending Beyond Walls: Spiritual Writing at Kenyon. Kenyon College is known for its great writing program, which is what led me to explore what their summer institute offered. And when I found out that they were offering this week-long conference on spiritual writing with my favorite poet Marie Howe as one of the teachers—I was so there! I’m also really excited to meet Amy Frykholm from The Christian Century and Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, The Velveteen Rabbi, who will also be teaching that week.
- Reading for Writing: I cannot wait to dive into my books! I always have lots of books I want to read, but never enough time. So I try to be strategic and read books that serve a good purpose for me. I’m interested in reading different styles of writing—styles I might want to tackle myself some day. So here’s an incomplete list of the books I hope to read this summer and why:
- Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo (because it won the National Book Award and because it’s non-fiction written like a novel—I’d love to go on assignment and tell a story like this someday.)
- Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (because it’s a memoir written in poetry, and it chronicles Woodson’s life growing up in South Carolina during the Civil Rights Movement. Unique and beautiful!)
- Creating Women’s Theology: A Movement Engaging Process Thought (because reading good theology takes me and my writing deeper–and because feminist theology feeds my hunger for strong female, scholarly voices about God.)
- The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor (because O’Connor’s amazing and I want to be her.)
- Practice saying “No”: I used to think that I had to say, “Yes!” to every opportunity or else those opportunities would no longer keep coming. Now, I know better. Now, I know myself and my priorities better so I can discern whether or not an opportunity is worth acting upon. Thomas Merton once said that the imagination should be allowed a certain amount of time to browse around. June and July is this “browsing around” time for me and I plan on protecting it by saying “No” to any opportunity that doesn’t fit with this priority. This way, come August, I can start saying “Yes” again.