Tuesday, September 12, 2017

About those writing classes – what are you waiting for?

Last month I posted about fall writing classes. I personally test as much about what I post as possible. So, when I found a class I’d never heard of before, even though it was vouched for by NaNoWriMo, the annual November writing marathon I’ve participated in several times, I took the plunge. It’s the series of writing courses offered by Coursera in cooperation with Wesleyan College. I’m halfway through my second course, and it’s wonderful!

This series -- about style, setting, character and plot -- is a one-time only offering from an established liberal arts school, taught by visiting professors who are also fine writers. Still, after I posted, readers had concerns. Even I had some concerns. 

The cost is $29 per course, each of which includes a series of four lectures, interviews with visiting writers and editors, readings, and writing assignments reviewed by other students. There’s also a requirement to review at least three other student writers/assignment. All this has been arranged by NaNoWriMo. I initially was taken aback by the possibility of graded assignments, but each assignment is purely pass-fail. No one need ever be shocked by your GPA.

image: pixabay
One reader worried that the $29 fee meant he was required to pay to participate in NaNoWriMo, a misconception which I blame myself for not clarifying. There is not, never has been, and no doubt never will be a charge to participate in NaNoWriMo. Yes, it’s a nonprofit organization, which like most nonprofits doesn’t refuse to have money thrown at it. But it doesn’t charge you to write.

In fact, if you want to take the NaNoWriMo-sponsored Coursera courses, you can do that completely free of charge. The only things you have to pay for are the chance to get and give feedback on the course’s writing assignments. The $29 also nets you an attractive certificate if you complete the course, which Coursera suggests you may want to add to LinkedIn or other social media sites.  (I’m still debating whether to display my certificate for completing the first course, The Craft of Style.)

I also clicked on a link asking Wesleyan for more information about its online courses and learned it has its own, non-NaNoWriMo, non-Coursera online courses. Each of them costs approximately $2,900. That’s not a typo. A standard online course at this old-line liberal arts college costs 100 times the price of the NaNoWriMo-Coursera version.

I’m sure students get more lectures, more writing assignments, more individual instruction in Wesleyan’s non-Coursera classes. After a couple of years of those, they also will have a master of fine arts degree in creative writing to add to their resumes. If they stay the course. For now, I’ll take a certificate or four and run.

Other readers, including members of my online critique group said, no, they never participate in NaNoWriMo. Or, holiday and family obligations prevent their participation.

That also worries me a bit. Is it because the stated aim of NaNoWriMo is to encourage writers to add 50,000 words to their novels in the single month of November? Does the thought of unwashed writers pecking away night and day on their keyboards, foregoing sleep, day jobs, and family daunt us? Does it make anybody who proclaims an interest in devoting an entire 30 days to a project sound crazy?

It should, of course. We’re writers. Crazy is what we do.

To be truthful, I’ve never hit the 50,000-word mark during NaNoWriMo. But I’ve added a few other tens of thousands of words to works in progress that might ever have gotten written without that impetus, still managed to meet a few other family, job, and community obligations. As well as the occasional meal and shower.

The NaNoWriMo-Coursera-Wesleyan series of four courses only runs through October 31, giving us time to finish before the magical month of November. And although each course is billed as a four-weeker, I did the first in two weeks, and look to meet that schedule for the second course. It’s even possible to knock out each of them in a week, but you may want to save your sleep deprivation for the NaNoWriMo marathon itself. Completed courses stay online for six months, giving writers a chance to review and refresh at our leisure.

If you missed your email from NaNoWriMo, or if you haven't yet made the commitment, see the Wesleyan site for details. Don’t hesitate too long. November waits for no writer.

1 comment:

  1. I forgot to provide the Wesleyan site when I first posted this! It's in there now.