What to Do with a Structure-less Summer? Make a Plan!

by Carol Lischau

This is the first year of my life I could consider myself a full-time student. Even in my undergraduate days, I’d be balancing a couple part-time gigs, always something on the side for the summers in-between semesters. As my first year of the MFA comes to a close, I simultaneously long for and fear the abyss of time that will be my first summer off. How can I trust myself to hold to a healthy routine? How will I mark the days and hours? 

My plan, like so many of ours, is to find an outdoor lounger where I will read and write till the each day’s end. Rinse repeat. How glorious. But without a detailed structure, those longings typically get shoved under the rug of a handful of new Netflix shows and bouts of cabin fever. It’s a shame, but I can at least acknowledge my tendencies. So for those of you who need a bit of structure in order to use your free time productively, here’s a few tips on getting going.

A plan might include:

A Weekly Writing Goal.

This could either be structured by the amount of times/hours to write in the week OR how many poems/pages of prose that must be drafted by the end of each week.

The first option may look like scheduling half hour-2 hour blocks throughout each week to set aside for writing, no questions asked. It may feel frustrating or painful at first, but so is creating most healthy habits in the world. 

The latter option may be my personal option of choice for this summer. If I give myself a deadline of, say, 2 drafted poems per week, I am flexible to schedule in those writing sessions at the start of the week. This flexibility may be helpful for those who enjoy summer’s spontaneity or have lots of sporadic trips or traveling planned.

A Book List.

And not simply a list of the top 100 books you have to read in your lifetime lifted from Goodreads, but a specific and focused list of books you have personally been looking forward to reading. It may be helpful to write out the specific reasons you want to read each book. As you’re compiling your list, try to strike a balance between a number that is reasonable but still pushes you to take advantage of the time off. And of course, give yourself deadlines at the start of each new book. 

Accountability.

Community was one of the main reasons I applied for MFA programs. I wanted to be among other writers and thinkers and grow from that movement of energy. Summertime often grants significant solitude from other creatives. But chances are you know someone who has their own personal summer goals. Whether or not they want to build something, achieve something, train for something, etc., having someone to meet your goals alongside may be those energy bursts you need most. Reach out now to the people you know, and see if they’d also like some accountability.

I’m still finalizing my summer plan, but here are a few books I already know will be on the list:

Foxby Dubravka Ugresic, Open Letter Press, 2017

Pandora’s Garden: Kudzu, Cockroaches, and Other Misfits of Ecology by Clinton Crockett Peters, University of Georgia Press, 2018

Southern Tongues Leave Us Shining Poems by Mark Wagenaar, Red Hen Press, 2018

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey, Algonquin Books, 2010 

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