You Wanted to Hear What That Flash Nonfiction Course Was Like?

Marie from 1WriteWay and I completed our Flash Essay on the Edge course. It was offered by Apiary Lit, which offers editorial services, as well as courses they call workshops.

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.

I took the course because I hadn’t written for months, mainly because of my father’s illness and death. Knowing the way I operate, I figured that a course would force me to focus and get a little writing done.

As planned, Marie and I evaluated the course when we were finished. We are both posting a list of the pros and cons of the course, as we saw it. At the end of the list, I’ll give you my additional impressions. Check out Marie’s post because she will give her own impressions.

Course Textbook

PROs

  • 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.

CONS

  • 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.

***

 I want to make clear that I am really glad I took the course. Apiary hired a qualified instructor and offered a solid, contemporary course. There was so much that was right about the course. But I think it needs a little tinkering to make it better in terms of both learning environment and the economy of the course.

The above list really hits the main points of what I liked and didn’t care for about the course. The oddest thing for me was working in such an isolated environment. I’ve been in many workshops, and this isn’t a workshop. In workshops, your work is presented to the teacher and classmates. Typically, you receive feedback from both the instructor and at least a fair number of peers. I learn this way from what several people have to say about a piece. And I learn a lot from reading the work of others and seeing what all, especially the instructor, have to say about a variety of writing.

That said, there are people who hate workshops, generally because they have had a bad experience with one. I also find it fun to diss them sometimes. But, overall, they are an effective way to improve one’s writing.

The class seemed eerily quiet, perhaps because it wasn’t a workshop. But if we had had discussions about our readings, that would have provided some connection between students.

One other student (besides Marie and me) did participate in the class as much as possible. The course had a feature that she and I both used. It was called the Work-Sharing Blog. We were allowed to post anything we wanted to and see if anybody would give us feedback. It was not encouraged by the instructor or the course setup, but this other student and I both took advantage of it. I was thrilled to get feedback from her and from Marie on a piece I’ve struggled with.

I’ve taken online writing courses from a variety of schools/companies. They all have their pros and cons. For what I wanted this summer, Apiary’s course satisfied me fairly well.

If you are looking for an online writing course, my suggestion would be to decide how you want to learn and then ask questions. If you want a workshop, ask if all students will be sharing their work with the class and if the class will be providing peer feedback. Will there be guidelines for providing that feedback? The guidelines protect the writer from snarky or downright mean classmates. If you don’t want a workshop, ask those questions, too. Be aware that the majority of online writing courses are workshop-based.

Have fun! It’s so rewarding to get motivation, specialized readings, and writing feedback all in one place.

Once I get my thoughts together on the subject, I’ll post something about the genre of flash nonfiction, to give you an idea of what we were working on.

49 Comments

Filed under #AmWriting, Creative Nonfiction, Editing, Essay, Flash Nonfiction, Inspiration, Literary Journals, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing goals, Writing prompt, Writing Tips and Habits

49 responses to “You Wanted to Hear What That Flash Nonfiction Course Was Like?

  1. I just read Marie’s post too. This is helpful info for those of us who’ve not taken any online writing courses. Thank you!

    • Carrie, when I started taking online writing courses in 2008 there weren’t a lot of places that offered them. Now they are everywhere! Some are offered by actual universities (some actual writing programs like the certificate I earned through Stanford and some isolated courses), some by writing companies like Gotham and Writer’s Digest, some by lit mags, some by individual writers, etc. Uh oh, I feel a post coming on down the road . . . .

  2. I’m so glad we were in this course together! Having you to talk to about the assignments and readings definitely enriched my experience. By the way, what was your overall favorite online writing course? I’m collecting information for when I’m ready to take another one 🙂

    • Me too, Marie!!! Where you take a course from can make a difference in what you get, but it can also make a different in the price. You can take an online 10 week course from Gotham. I think those are close to $400 now. It depends on the subject and the other students and the instructor how good the course ends up being. To my knowledge these are always regular workshops where you read and critique the work of your peers AND get feedback from your instructor. I left there because I had a negative situation happen and I complained and they did not respond to me in a way I thought appropriate. BUT other than that one course/instructor (and the discovery that the company doesn’t listen to a valid criticism) I was happy there. I’ve thought of writing a post about the various courses, but I’m afraid I’ll realize how much money I’ve spent on online courses LOL.

      • Ah, I have thought about taking courses from Gotham. Disappointing that you had a bad experience, but I guess that’s always possible. It’s what makes me nervous about plunking down more $$$ but I think I’m still (desperately) in need of guidance and feedback, and may be for a long time. Gotham was already on my list of online writing courses to consider so I’m glad you mentioned it 🙂

        • I had some amazing courses at Gotham. Poetry with Matthew Lippman–the courses weren’t very full so there weren’t as many students to participate, but he’s wonderfully encouraging. I took a play-writing course taught by a guy who teaches at NYU–can’t remember his name right now–and he was a hard*** but amazing. The memoir courses were all pretty good, but I had a problem with one teacher. He’s someone who is relatively known in the CNF field, so if you’re interested, email me. Oops, I also took children’s book writing and it was fun!

  3. Thanks for the review, Luanne. As I mentioned on Marie’s post, for me, no two on-line classes are ever the same.

    • They are all different, and they all have pros and cons. There is no doubt. Even if the course and instructor are the same, the group of students can change the dynamic of a course.

  4. I’m looking forward to hearing about flash non-fiction and what that is all about.

  5. Thanks for sharing your experience Luanne and whatever the pros and cons, I’m glad it got you writing 🙂

    • Andrea, I think it depends on the personality, but with mine, online courses are the best way to get me writing. When I’m given a deadline (especially when I pay for it!), I feel compelled to produce! Marie says she is the same way.

  6. Thanks, Luanne. This is very helpful and so generous of both you and Marie to share your thoughts. I am emailing myself both your posts so I can print and retain them for further resources.

    • In the future I do hope to write about flash nonfiction, as well as a comparison/contrast of the courses I’ve taken from various places.

      • I’ve had fits and starts in my draft pile about Creative Non-Fiction and some of the research I’ve done (I see your classbook is one by or collated by Dinty Moore, a guru of the genre) as well as my favorite online magazines. I just haven’t organized my ‘flow’ of all of it for a serial series. But I’m a junkie for the genre and ‘Flash’ adds a whole new challenge.

        BTW I (briefly) paused on a blog today belonging to a 78-year-young writer. If my eyes and brain co-operate I just might get to all my blogging ideas 😀💖

  7. Very interesting. I have never taken or taught an online course of any kind. Your article gives me lots to think about.

  8. I would much rather go to a writer’s workshop. Getting some technical help online is great, but I don’t think this course would please me. I prefer the give and take of peers.
    I’m glad you enjoyed it, mostly. Can we expect to read some of your flash fiction then? 🙂

    • Joey, it was way much more than technical help. Chelsea gave me ideas on how to take a piece to a higher level in conceptualization, structure, form, as well as giving feedback on what parts work well and what could be cut. It’s amazingly helpful. I’m sorry I gave the impression that it wasn’t. It’s just that without workshopping with and in front of peers, it felt isolating and I would have loved to have read the work of others and read Chelsea’s extremely insightful comments on those.
      I am going to try to work on a couple of the pieces I did in class and send them out to some magazines. We’ll see how that goes! I do have a fiction short story (not flash though) coming out in Crack the Spine in the near future!

    • I’m with you, joey. I’m suspicious of any writing-related thing that directs all attention toward the expert, whether it’s a teacher or an editor or a celebrity writer. Why? Because what I haven’t learned by reading, self-study, and (most important) writing, I’ve learned from my peers — in workshops, writers’ groups, the occasional conference, and one-on-one work sharing. How else does one learn all the myriad ways one’s writing can be understood, or misunderstood? How else does one come to realize, or decide, whom one’s writing for? Well, OK, there probably are other ways, but peer interaction has been crucial to me from the beginning.

      That said, I’m intrigued by both flash nonfiction and flash fiction because I tend to write long. I’ve been toying with the idea of taking an online course in one or both, so I’m glad to learn about this one.

      • Oops, I missed an end code. That last sentence isn’t supposed to be in itals.

      • Susanna, you really made me stop and think more about the lack of peer feedback. I was really focused on the isolation and that I wasn’t learning as much, but you’re right, it could be “dangerous” to only get feedback from instructors. Maybe it would be good advice that unless you’ve been seriously harmed by workshops in the past, if you are only going to take one course, better make it one with a lot of interaction with peers about each other’s work. I am also training myself to write shorter. There are a lot of benefits. Short pieces obviously don’t work for everything, but they do have their usefulness.

  9. I’ve never been a fan of online courses like this…web series to me are fine, but an online course pretending to be a workshop or to foster any sort of real discuss/interaction irritates me, because it just doesn’t happen! And yet, almost half of my graduate courses were online…my biggest complaint was how little the instructors did during these courses. Can’t say it’s always this way, but my experience was that in the online classes I was forced to take, instructors uploaded a few things on Sunday then disappeared. Irritating! Of course several of them were taught by the same woman, who was completely invisible for the most part, so that didn’t help. 😉 Does seem like an odd way to ‘workshop’ your writing,but it’s good it wasn’t a complete loss!

    • Oh yeah, that one woman must have been a big problem. I’ve honestly had some great online workshop experiences. I still keep in contact with other class members. I’m pretty happy with them overall. However, I saw what you’re complaining about with courses my daughter took online when she was a senior in high school and a freshman in college. Man oh man. There were some doozies. That said, there is definitely a range in how generous the instructors of these courses are. Why are you closing your comments before I can get over there, by the way. I had this feeling you were collecting comments and then you would get a vibe that I was about ready to come over and you would hurriedly close your comments. 😉 haha. Is it because you’re so busy?

      • Nah, it’s because an old trouble-maker from YouTube has resurfaced, he harasses some of us every few years. I put all comments on approval and set them to close after 5 days, just to be safe for now in case he decides to come to my blog and cause trouble. I forgot about it actually; probably need to re-open th,e soon!

        • Oh, well, I’m not going to “like” your comment. That’s such a shame.

        • Marey, I am “butting in” but all you need to do when someone bothers you on WordPress is to place them in Spam. In my email, I had also someone coming thru blogging and Linked In and was able to keep them out when I saw them in Junk Mail. Never just delete, “Spam them!” The system then won’t even bother you by saying they are “Waiting approval.” It has receved the message.Then, you probably know all this, I will not open any of these and automatically delete as a group with the other spammers.
          I sympathize with you and hope they get some “karma” repercussions! 🙂

          • I remember doing that in the past, yeah. And so far they are not even bothering me on WP, they just reference me in their stupid YouTube videos on occasion, which I don’t care about one way or another. But they do open up fake gmail accounts and find ways back into the comments, at least they used to, so it’s moderation for now. Ah, the internet. Ain’t it grand? 😉 Anyway thanks for the reminder that I can do the Spam thing. We’ll see how it goes!

  10. Great to hear that this course inspired you to keep writing Luanne. Im doing an editing course at the moment and then a Picture book course. I really enjoy an online course. When I took Jeff Goins’s course it opened my mind to so many possibilities. Thanks for sharing your experiences. The more I learn the more I realise I still have so much to learn.

    • Kath, may I ask where you are taking a picture book course? That sounds like so much fun! Do you get to do both the illustrations and the text? If so, maybe you’ll let us know if the chicken or the egg comes first!!

  11. Many thanks for sharing your thoughts and pros and cons of this course Luanne and I look forward to hearing more about non-fiction flash writing.

  12. This is great Luanne. Thanks so much for sharing the good and bad with us. I’m looking forward to reading about the flash fiction 😀

  13. Hi Luanne. If you’re looking for a collaborative online writer’s site that’s free, I’d recommend Zoetrope (Francis Ford Copola’s site). I used it for about a year and a half. I don’t know if the writers on the site today are as helpful as the ones a few years ago, but they offered great advice and gave my work great critiques. It was just extraordinary. I think it’s still worth checking it out.

  14. Despite the cons, it seems like you had a good experience and got some useful advice.

    • Yes, it was a positive experience. I felt quite energized about writing flash nonfiction when class was over. Of course now I’ve been gone for 12 days and have lost all focus and energy. Let’s hope I can revive myself hah.

  15. I waited to read this fully engaged. I knew after work the first time around I liked how much detail and feedback you have here but I wanted to think, too. I am excited you wrote a great deal and this is one fantastic outcome your non-fiction course, Luanne.
    I had the opportunity to take online Masters courses and both my brother and sister in law discouraged me. They felt I thrive on verbal interaction along with projects where people share information. I ultimately did not complete it die to last 3 courses were not offered at OSU during nights or weekends. I am proud of my teaching, working as a server and getting 45 credits done. My family viewed my two coworkers attending another easier university as getting “pieces of paper,” (from a “diploma mill.”)
    The explanation means that I would be fine with a course like you took, sometimes our workshops for teaching cost that for one day, Luanne! You had a great mentor critiquing your papers and you accomplished a lot in this environment. I was glad you gave both pro’s and con’s. I would like to have each student share their writing over the internet. I would have liked “brain storming” group conference calls. My youngest daughter with her personalized UD degree really did well in her Integrative Nutrition coursework to receive her Health Coach degree. I had several opportunities to overhear these calls while we were roommates. This would have been a nice opportunity for the members of your class. So glad you at least had Marie and one other person in the online course to interact with. I must need more hands on but one never knows until I would try this method, Luanne. 🙂

    • Robin, it might have been frustrating to you not to be able to work with others in the class. But yes the feedback was wonderful and so helpful. Both my kids have taken online courses–my daughter both high school and college and my son college. Neither of them felt they learned much from them. They are not as “into” the computer as I am and are both more extroverted and need to have more people around them (in the flesh). The courses that seemed better for them were the ones that are more like the test someone has to take (guilty)when they get a speeding ticket and don’t want the points on their license–more “standarized.” I feel that I have gotten a lot out of my online courses because I am more apt to make use of the bells and whistles of an online course, whereas they did not. When my son started grad school this past year he decided against the online degrees. Only one school is in driving distance from him that offers the MHA program he wanted, but he is going there so that he has in-person classes and is glad he did it.

  16. Thanks for posting this review. One of these days I need to get myself back out there and into another workshop. I’ve only taken two and both were through Writer’s Digest. I’ll show you how out of it I’ve become, I don’t know what flash nonfiction is. I’ve heard of flash fiction, but not non-.

    • Flash nonfiction is just like flash fiction (sort of) except that it’s based on actual experience, but it does have a wider range because it includes ultra short essays as well as narrative prose as well as (arguably) prose poems. I actually took a course through Writer’s Digest once. If I ever write a comparison/contrast of the writing classes I’ve taken that will be one I cover. It was definitely different from all the others in that the instructor was more into doing line by line editing. Not as valuable for the stage that most people bring work to a workshop, but very valuable if you bring a nearly complete ms.

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