Course Review: Flash Essay on the Edge #MondayBlogs


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 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.

34 thoughts on “Course Review: Flash Essay on the Edge #MondayBlogs

  1. Interesting discussion. I have been contemplating doing the opposite: taking myself off to a writer’s retreat for a couple of weeks. Just not sure when I could swing it. Feedback is great. I’ll be in need of some soon, But too much of that good thing can be as frustrating as none I think.

    • I would love to go on a writer’s retreat, and I hear there’s such variety. I can’t remember the article now but it might have been in Poets & Writers. An article on finding the retreat to suit your needs. Some retreats are organized so you can socialize and work with other writers. Other retreats you can keep entirely to yourself. The latter is what I would need if I were to focus on revising my novels. None of them are in any shape for feedback. I hope you get to go a retreat and then tell us all about it 🙂

  2. I’m with you Marie. I prefer a more interactive course if I’m plopping down some dough. I don’t know if they’re still around, but I took one with on building a novel outline. It was a personal one-on-one interaction with a published author and he helped me figure out what type of story I was writing. It went okay, though I felt at times he was just going through the motions. I think a lot of this will depend on the instructor.

    Really appreciate such a thorough review!

    • Thanks, Phillip! I think I would have felt okay with just having a one-on-one with our instructor but since the course was promoted as a workshop, my expectations were different. I have had one-on-one courses as well. Two actually through Long Ridge Writers Group. Both were correspondence courses that lasted about a year each. In fact, Clemency (the novel I was “serializing” last November) was developed through one of the courses. At the time it was a perfect fit for me. I liked the snail mail approach (no worries about technology failures) and the mentoring I received, but it was also very safe, only having one person critique my work.

  3. I’ve yet to take and online writing course, but really should one of these days. I noticed Kathy noted the Iowa Fiction one is coming up again this fall. That might be some great motivation. I think feedback and discussion needs to be at the heart of any writing class, regardless of instructional format. When I was researching online writing classes for one of my newsletters, quite a few would have students post their work to public discussion forums. At least that ups the feedback ante, especially for the free classes I’ve seen. Did you state how many students are enrolled at once? I’m curious.

    • There 5 students total in the nonfiction course. Definitely small enough to organize a workshop experience, but I suspect since the course wasn’t graded, they weren’t going to require peer reviews. Chelsea did encourage us to share our work, but only Luanne and one other student stepped up. I didn’t. I think it took me too long to get the hang of the platform. By the time I was comfy with it, class was over 😉 In contrast, the online poetry I took through Iowa was incredibly dynamic with lots of peer review if you wanted it. The only thing it lacked for me was there was no instructor review of your work. Also, so many people participated that if you were late to engage in one of the many, many discussion forums, your comments weren’t always responded to. I got a lot out of both of these courses; they fed different parts of me. Right now I’m looking forward to the Iowa fiction course that Kathy mentioned. I really appreciated the time and effort and enthusiasm that Iowa put into the poetry course. There were some hassles with the platforms they used, but the instructors and support staff were awesome. Loved the video lectures, too.

  4. Thanks for your pros and cons about online writing course. I have never taken one; right now I’m looking into a fall workshop that I’d like to take. Either way, online or in person, I agree that the other writers’ feedback, in addition to the instructor’s, is helpful. And I could totally relate to writing under a deadline. I’m really trying to write everyday even if it’s only a few minutes, otherwise I’ll get distracted with house stuff.

    • I’m always distracted with house stuff, the cats, books I want to read, eating, sleeping … 😉 Oh, and knitting (how could I forget knitting?!) I just heard that there may be a free online prose fiction course this fall through the International Writing Program at University of Iowa. It’s the same program that hosted the free online poetry course I took. For the poetry course, I didn’t get instructor feedback on my work, which was disappointing but understandable given there were thousands of students (it was free). Still, the video-taped lectures were awesome and the moderators knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful. And I really appreciated the feedback I got from fellow students, much of it was very helpful. Once I have details of the prose fiction workshop, I’ll mention it on my blog. Cheers and happy writing whenever you carve out the time 🙂

      • Oh, I wish I lived near you…I’ve started and ripped out a baby blanket I’m knitting at least 4 times! I keep getting distracted and messing up the pattern. 🙁 I try to back track to the point I mess up but am not good enough. Yes, I would like to know more about that course. I will go online and look for it, too. Thanks!

        • What kind of pattern is it? I often use markers to help me keep track of where I am in a pattern. I also write out the row-by-row directions into a notebook and then check off each row as I finish it. It’s more work upfront but it pays off for me. I’m working on a bolero now that has an easy pattern, except it is also easy to lose my place in the pattern when I get distracted. Hence, the markers and notebook. Hang in there. Baby blankets are the best!

          • Oh, I like the notebook idea. That will help. It’s an easy pattern of 4 rows that repeat themselves but if I’m not paying attention I’m purling when I should be knitting 2 together or something like that 🙂 A friend of mine works for a non-profit involving babies…they give out baby blankets. This is the first blanket I’ll be donating and want it to look good! Thanks for the great tip!!

  5. I was interested to hear how this experience turned out, Marie. It’s really hard to write in a vacuum. Even with feedback from the instructor, other takes would be nice.

    • Indeed. Chelsea’s feedback was great but it definitely would have enriched the experience to have had the feedback of the other students.

  6. Thanks so much for this review. It’s really hard to find a course that suits you. Of course you know that Iowa are repeating their prose fiction workshop starting this fall don’t you? I took it last year and loved it. I’m sure they will let you know if you’re on their mailing list. the dates might even be listed on Facebook – i haven’t checked yet. I’ll post it when i find out. But you have me really wondering what would be an example of flash non-fiction?

    • Awesome! I’d like to take the fiction workshop with Iowa … I only hope they use a platform other than Piazza 😉 Here’s a nice example of a lyric essay, one of the four forms we studied: As with flash fiction, we talking about 500-750 words, and the nonfiction is just that. Some of the examples Chelsea gave us were memoirs, but there were “nature” essays as well, such as Janisse Ray’s essays on the longleaf pine forests in Florida. And Brevity is a great place to find all manner of flash nonfiction 🙂 Thanks for the heads up on Iowa. I only hope their dates don’t interfere with NaNoWriMo 😉

  7. It was such fun to take a course with you, Marie. I think it made it a lot more special! You ask about other online writing courses. I wrote you about one particular place to your comment on my post. I have taken a ton of courses. I wouldn’t say that I have a favorite because they really are all that different. But the way they are proliferating all over the place, it finally feels as though I have only sampled a small portion of what’s available out there. I’d love to try a UCLA course, for instance.

    • I’ve only taken a few online or long distance courses (I took two writing courses through snail mail several years ago), and they are all so different. Sometimes I think I just want a mentor, but interacting with other students can be enriching. Well, we’ll see. Right now I know I need to get back to work 😉

  8. These cons would be cons for me:
    “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.”
    As difficult as my writing workshops have been, the student interaction was a benefit.

    • I didn’t mind it so much (the “isolation”) but then I had Luanne with me and we interacted quite a bit. Still, I was surprised at how “quiet” the class was and that the other students were not so inclined to share. Or maybe they didn’t have time, or just wanted the one-on-one with Chelsea. Hard to say. There were only 7 students in the class, including Luanne and me. In a face-to-face workshop, a small group could be very effective and dynamic. I think maybe because the course wasn’t graded, they (the people who created the workshops) didn’t want to set requirements. In all, it was an interesting experience and I’m happy for what I got out of it. But, still, if it hadn’t been for Luanne, it would have been a lonely experience.

  9. That’s ashame to have spent that much without it meeting expectations. I have a new editor and we’ve got to work out a few kinks if it’s going to be a good one:one relationship.

    • Well, I did really appreciate Chelsea’s feedback on my writing and, for me, that was mainly what I was after. Apiary Lit does offer editorial services so if I use them again, it might be for the editorial services than workshop. Good luck with your new editor!

  10. Thanks for the honest opinion on your poetry course. One thing I’ve learned, no two on-line courses are ever the same. I do prefer a smaller group. I’m like you, Marie, I need a deadline, or I wouldn’t get it done. I actually think I do better working full-time and scheduling in writing time. If I were retired, I’d probably waste more time.:)

    • I know I should be able to schedule writing time. I’m able to do it when it’s NaNoWriMo or I have a course, but maybe part of the appeal of a deadline is knowing that there’s an endpoint. With NaNoWriMo, my husband has only to put up with my slinking away to write for 30 days, not indefinitely 🙂

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