I’ve mentioned that Luanne Castle of A Writer’s Site and I recently participated in an online course for flash nonfiction, offered by Apiary Lit. Well, we’ve
survived finished the course and want to share our experience with all you dear Readers. We put our heads together and created the following list of Pros and Cons.
First, let me share with you Luanne’s lovely shout-out to our instructor for the course:
The course instructor was talented writer and teacher Chelsea Biondolillo. Her prose has appeared or is forthcoming in Brevity, Passages North, Rappahannock Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Shenandoah, and others. She has an MFA from the University of Wyoming and is a 2014-15 O’Connor Fellow at Colgate University. You can check out Chelsea here http://roamingcowgirl.com/ or do a search for her pieces in online magazines. Her knowledge of the genre and generosity to share that knowledge with her students was outstanding.
- The teacher prep was outstanding. She provided a wealth of readings, which were useful in showing me what flash nonfiction can look and sound like.
- The course was only four weeks, so I found that to be very manageable. If it had been longer, I would have been too stressed during the summer and at this time in my life.
- The instructor generally gave useful feedback, seemed qualified in the subject, and was very nice. She seemed to love her subject.
- The instructor was accessible, responding within the same day if there was a question or concern.
- Other than a problem I will list under CONs, the website was pretty easy to negotiate.
- The online classroom had various forums that enabled you to share your work with the other students and have discussions.
- The writing prompts were generally interesting, but I didn’t feel tied to them, which was good.
- The course was not graded. I could focus on what I wanted to turn in, not what I thought I had to turn in in order to get an A.
- The course got me writing without adding stress to my life.
- I got more writing done in this past month than I would have otherwise.
- I feel that I know where to go with flash nonfiction now. It would be ideal to get more feedback down the road on attempts at Flash Nonfiction, but at least I feel much more comfortable with the genre from taking this course.
- Above all, I had fun with the readings and the writing.
- Although there were forums available, we had no real discussion of any of the readings. We were not strongly encouraged to interact with each other. We had maybe one discussion prompt during the whole course.
- The readings and essay examples were available through either some kind of Adobe program that took a bit of time to figure out, or through hyperlinks that weren’t always easy to download.
- We posted our written assignments privately to the instructor so I had no way of learning from what others had turned in or from reading instructor comments on the work of others. I didn’t care for this method as it diminished what I could learn from the course by a hefty percentage. I suppose this is the difference between the workshop method and a traditional style class.
- We felt isolated in this class and had little interaction with anyone but each other and the instructor. In the discussion forum, one other student interacted with us, and another made a couple of independent comments. Other than that, it was a strangely quiet class.
- Two platforms were used for the course: an online classroom and a blog,so sometimes I had a little trouble negotiating the course. Sometimes I had to login in two places. This inconvenience turned out to be less of a problem than I first anticipated, but it could be streamlined. The blog material could have been included on the classroom platform.
- Since I don’t know how many people were in the course, I don’t know the instructor’s workload. My belief is that in a course that is short in length, the instructor should return assignments in short order. The lag time between turning in an assignment/beginning reading for a new lesson and getting the instructor’s feedback on my previous assignment was a little too long for my comfort.
- The price at $199 was a little steep for four weeks and no discussion/no workshopping.
My personal riff on the course:
Whether fair or unfair, I kept comparing the structure of this course with one I took on poetry a few months ago. The poetry course was free, but if I fulfilled certain requirements, I could order a certificate of completion. Those requirements involved participating in discussion forums as well as providing feedback on other students’ assignments. I learned a lot from the online discussions and from the feedback I got from other students (many of whom were published poets). It made for a dynamic learning environment, similar to what one would expect in a writing workshop.
What I missed in the poetry course was having a direct relationship with an instructor/mentor whose purpose was to critique and guide my writing.
So when I heard about this course through Luanne and saw that the instructor would provide individualized feedback, I jumped at the opportunity. And although $199 was a bit steep for just 4 weeks, Chelsea’s feedback alone was worth every penny. I also happily “discovered” that creative nonfiction is just as boundary-less as poetry. There are rules and then there are rules to be broken. You are limited only by your imagination.
I am still looking for that perfect-for-me online writing course. My biggest challenges, as always, are Time and Organization. I complain I have little time but that’s in large part because I’m not very organized. Hence, my need for structure, for someone/something setting deadlines for me. I learned that through NaNoWriMo: if I don’t have a deadline, I don’t write. I know I would be better at this if I were retired from my day job, but until that happens, when I do have time, I tend to procrastinate. (Although my procrastination takes the form of household chores and errands, which, sadly I have no one to do for me.)
I would consider taking another course with Apiary Lit (and definitely with Chelsea), but I want to try another venue if possible. If any of my dear Readers have taken an online writing course that you truly found beneficial, please let me know in the comments.