My Christian Nonfiction Writing “Class”

A few weeks back, I was describing to a friend this new class I’ve been taking and when I reached the end she asked who was teaching it. I said I am. “Well, where’d you get the syllabus?” she asked. I made it. She was surprised and asked if I’d ever considered becoming a teacher and, well, that’s what I originally went to school to do. To some, the idea of making up your own class is crazy or too time intensive. I just saw it as necessary.

Over the summer, I reflected on some of the recent feedback I’d gotten on my writing and on my desire to do more ministry. I wondered how the two might be connected. I explored what ministry opportunities are available to women who haven’t gone to seminary (since Lord knows I have no more $$ for school), I talked with people about the kinds of ministry I like to do and went online to see what relevant syllabi existed offered through seminaries.

I discovered a dearth of information on Christian nonfiction writing courses. There were intro-level courses offered on how to do theological research in a seminary context but I didn’t see any on Christian writing in general (if you are reading this and know of any, please do let me know). So I combed through regular graduate-level writing courses—both fiction and nonfiction—to see how such a course might be structured. Over the course of several weeks, I used those syllabi and seminary research syllabi to create my own syllabus based on my own writing goals and my starting point. You can view my syllabus here.

I faced similar difficulty finding an anthology of Christian writing. So, once again, I set out to create my own. I asked friends for recommendations and asked to borrow the suggested books. This week, I will photocopy one chapter from each and take the photocopies to FedEx Office to get spiral bound. The plan is to use the self-compiled Christian nonfiction anthology for close reading alongside a collection of essays. If I find any book excerpts particularly compelling I may go back and read the whole thing, but this is supposed to be a survey.

Each week has assignments, readings, and class meetings. I took the average class time length from the writing syllabi I found and spread it across the most common class frequency—twice a week. Class “meets” in my bedroom. In the past month, I missed about 30 minutes of class. I came downstairs and ended up chatting with my roommate for half of that and the other half was lost due to the bad combination of beer and fatigue. Class time is blocked off on my calendar, social activities must end by 8 pm on class nights, and I put my phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode. I am also mostly on track with my reading but am a week behind in Writing Theology Well because it’s more dense than I anticipated.

One really helpful feature of in-person classes is workshopping and since I was following the syllabus on my own, I wanted to find a way to incorporate that into my self study.  After deciding to use devotionals for workshopping due to their brevity, I thought through the kinds of editing help I’d need. I brainstormed a list of people who could help check my theology, edit my mechanics and technique, and others representative of my target audience. I created questionnaires in Google Forms to send to those who have agreed to be my editors and so far, I’ve had two of the five writing pieces for workshopping edited by my four first-round theology editors. I am a week behind as my schedule shows I should have already sent the third devotional. Second round editor requests should go out before the end of the day.

I hope, by the end of this year, to have a few pieces of writing I feel very strongly about, to be a sharper editor, and to be a more confident writer.

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