Further Education for Writers

Me talking books at the local library.
Me talking books at the local library.

I’ve been writing fiction all my life, though it has only been at the centre of my life for the past few years (nestled between the kids and the dog, just left of my spouse, right of the cats, and smothered on all sides by art and nature.)

I have always written well. I had my first short stories published in literary journals when I was a university student. I began to write for children in my thirties and I got my first picture book contract after five years of submitting to slush piles. I have since published four novels for children and teens and my books have brought me four awards, lots of nominations, plenty of great reviews and some charming fan mail. I now spend a few hours of every day writing fiction.

I am not a well-known writer. I’m not one of Canada’s seasoned greats. I am not a master. But I know a thing or two about writing fiction.

So it’s about time I took a writing course.

I signed up for this massive online open course.
I signed up for this massive online open course.

Like many authors who studied and worked in a field other than literature (for me it was political science and environmental studies), I’ve always wondered if I missed out on a proper writer’s education. I’ve read a good chunk of the canon, and I’ve even made notes while reading it, but I’m nagged by the idea that maybe I’m doing it wrong. Maybe my self-taught path has wandered right past the very best thing out there in the literary world.

A seriously tough self-directed course of study - I didn't quite complete it.
A seriously tough self-directed course of study.

I occasionally peruse the websites of universities wondering, if I swept together the crumbs of my three English electives and my shaky French and my writing credits plus six years of university classes in other fields, would I have enough prerequisites to start a Masters in English Lit? (Or an MFA if the second-language requirement is more lax.)

I promptly second-guess this urge: universities are pricey and we need to pay for the kids’ education first, besides which I’ve been-there-done-that, plus there are too many tedious forms  to apply to the faculty, and if I was to start my life over what I’d really like to do is spend a few years in the woods studying wildlife and, really, I could be teaching writing instead of studying it. This is how the “should I take a writing course” idea goes round in my head and leads nowhere.

But when I read about the massive online open course, “How Writers Write Fiction,” offered through the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program, I signed up. What the hell. It’s a middle ground: a bit of guidance, a bit of self-direction. Plus it’s free. And you can attend class in your jammies. And even if I get nothing else out of it, it’s bound to teach me how other writers write fiction – that’s the name of the course, after all – so I can stop wondering if I’ve been doing it wrong all these years.

If you are a writer or have writerly leanings and you’re curious about courses but a bit of a tightwad and a loner, you might want to check it out, too. (Here are the course details.) Could be useful. You never know.

I'm going to this, too. Bases covered.
I’m going to this, too. Bases covered.

(If you want something a little more face-to-face that only lasts a weekend, sign up for “The Art of Story,” the SCBWI conference in Ottawa coming up in October. It’s not free, and you probably shouldn’t come in your jammies, but it will be fun and it might satisfy more than curiosity.)



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