Transforming Lives Through Online Learning
by Nicholas O’Connell
I was an online learning skeptic. Having taught nonfiction writing at the University of Washington for ten years, I relished the advantages of a real classroom–the camaraderie with the students, the sense of chemistry that inspired students to do their best work. I doubted online writing classes could touch this model. Like many others, I was wrong.
When I got the chance to teach an online writing class, I decided to try it. After all, online education was supposed to be the wave of the future. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I would do it for a quarter and return to the regular classroom. Then Necifera Cato enrolled in my course.
For an assignment, Cato wrote about how the Internet had transformed her life. A Filipina living in Japan, she had married a Japanese man from a traditional family, but the family considered her a “gaijin” or “alien” and rejected her. They kept the marriage a secret for fear of censure. Unable to bear the strain, Cato sought comfort in the Internet. She made friends on line, broke out of her husband’s family circle, and found a world of possibilities open up to her. Eventually, she divorced her husband and met an American through a video conference. Three years later, she came to the United States to marry him.
In helping her write this remarkable story, I discovered the potential of online writing classes to transform people’s lives. Communicating via the web and email, we crossed cultural, temporal and geographic boundaries. Though we never actually met, it was as satisfying a teaching experience as I’ve had. After several revisions, she turned in a vivid, touching, well-structured essay for her final assignment. It was a dramatic demonstration of the possibilities of online writing classes.
Cato’s story is extraordinary one, but it resembles that of the hundreds of students who have benefited from my online writing courses. The accessibility, convenience, and wide range of resources and learning options make online or distance learning ideally suited for the fast-paced, asynchronous contemporary world. Many of my students have other obligations–family, work, volunteering–that prevent them from taking an on-campus course. Others relish the seminar quality of the online writing courses. You move at your own pace. You correspond directly with me, your instructor. You needn’t attend class or participate in discussions. You do exactly what you want to do within the parameters of the online writing course.
An online writing course can help you land a job in the writing world. It can speed your path toward publication. It can increase your chances of acceptance at an MFA or other program. But as much as online writing courses are about professional development, they are also about personal transformation. Online writing classes allow students to achieve their dreams, whether that’s seeing their story in The New Yorker or writing about love and transformation in the Internet age.
“New dimensions opened up for me with the arrival of the Internet,” Cato wrote in her essay. “I never realized that the horizon of information and camaraderie is that expansive. Not only was I able to break down the walls that confined my emotional growth, I discovered freedom, freedom from a stifling marriage, freedom from confining beliefs, and freedom from blocks to my creative evolution.”
For students like Cato, the Internet and online writing classes offer an unprecedented chance of achieving their creative evolution, whether that evolution means a BA, MBA, Ph.D., or the bundle of red roses that she received when she stepped off the plane and hugged her fiancée for the first time.
WHAT ARE THE ASSIGNMENTS LIKE?
The assignments for the online writing classes are practical and concise. They run from 100 words for a character sketch to 1,500- to 2,500 -words for a longer story or book chapter. The shorter exercises can serve as components of your larger story or can treat other topics entirely. The choice is yours.
HOW CAN I SUCCEED IN THESE COURSES?
These online writing courses will help you progress as a writer. Outside of a course, it’s easy to procrastinate. I don’t have to enumerate the ways; I’m sure you’re familiar with them. Having an assignment due will help you make time for your writing. To succeed at the course:
- Commit yourself to it. Spend 10 to 15 hours a week so that you can complete the assignments in a timely manner and keep your momentum going throughout the online writing class.
- Finish the assignments. Don’t worry about how you’ll get through all the assignments, just worry about the next one. After you’ve finished that one and have received my response, move to the following one. As professional athletes say, take ‘em one at a time.
NOTE: I will respond to the assignments within a week. You have six months to complete them. Try to make steady progress in the online writing course. Six months is generally plenty of time to finish all of the assignments.
After you receive the course materials, take a look at them and make sure the course seems right for you. If it does not, please let me know within a week, and I will refund all the tuition except for a $100 course cancellation fee. After a week, there will be no refunds for the course.
These are one-on-one tutorials, where we work with you individually to improve your writing. You begin at any time. You proceed at your own pace. You have six months to complete the class. After you sign up, I send you written materials guiding you through the course. You submit assignments via email or regular mail and get a prompt response. You can pay with a check or a credit card. Visit the registration page to see about payment options. I look forward to working with you!
ONLINE WRITING CLASSES
WRITING 101– Have you always wanted to write but haven’t known where to start? Have you written in the past but need a refresher on the nuts and bolts? If so, this is the course for you. It will help you communicate clearly and effectively, whether in email, reports, letters or essays. The short, targeted assignments include quick grammar exercises, keys to writing effective sentences and paragraphs, and longer assignments that illuminate the writing process, organization and composition. This class will help you to reach your potential as a writer—whether on the job or for personal growth—bringing style and confidence to your writing. Six assignments in all, including a persuasive essay and a personal essay. $500. Instructor: Jessica Murphy.
INTRODUCTION TO NONFICTION WRITING – Nonfiction writing is by far the most popular genre of contemporary literature, offering endless opportunities for craft, creativity and publication. This course introduces you to the fundamentals of nonfiction: developing and shaping story ideas, interviewing and research, strategies for opening and structuring nonfiction stories. Students research and write a 750-word profile, a 750-word personal essay and four other targeted assignments as they learn the fundamental skills of this invaluable craft. $500. Instructor: Jessica Murphy.
INTRODUCTION TO MAGAZINE WRITING – This course builds on the techniques of the previous class, and includes analyzing magazines, learning different story structures, unlocking the secret of making your words flow, polishing your prose and working with editors, and understanding the legal and ethical issues of magazine journalism. Five short- to medium-sized assignments and one longer (1,500 to 2,000 word story). $500. Instructor: Scott Driscoll.
INTRODUCTION TO CREATIVE NONFICTION – “Just the facts” doesn’t have to be boring. Creative Nonfiction brings together the best of fiction and nonfiction writing. Through readings, written assignments and individual critiques, students will gain a practical grasp of dramatic scene, dialogue, character sketches and scene by scene construction. Class will discuss where to market work. Six assignments including a 1,500- to 2,500-word story and its revision.$500. Instructor: Porter Fox.
ADVANCED CREATIVE NONFICTION – This course builds on the techniques of the previous class, adding in medias res openings, first and third person points of view, creation of suspense, and further suggestions for publication. Six assignments in all, including a 1,500- to 2,500-word story and its revision. $500. Instructor: Nick O’Connell.
INTRODUCTION TO WRITING A NONFICTION BOOK – Have you always wanted to write a book? Do you have an important story to tell? If so, this is the course for you. Nonfiction books are the largest category of manuscripts published, making up 85 percent of all the books published in a given year. Of those, 75 percent are by first-time authors. Writing a nonfiction book is a good way to break into the publishing world. This course is designed to help you produce the finished first chapter of your nonfiction book, a concept statement, an annotated table of contents and marketing report. Six assignments in all. $500. Instructor: Jessica Murphy.
ADVANCED NONFICTION BOOK: WRITING, EDITING AND PUBLISHING – This course continues the writing and refining of your manuscript with the goal of producing a finished book proposal. In addition, the course addresses writing query letters, market research, contacting publishers, seeking out literary agents, organizing publicity–all of the skills needed to obtain a contract and complete a manuscript for a first book. Six assignments in all. $500. Instructor: Jessica Murphy.
INDIVIDUAL TUTORIAL – In this class we’ll work together to set up an individualized curriculum. After consulting with you, I’ll put together a package of assignments and readings to fulfill your particular goals as a writer. The assignments might range from short 100-word story ideas, to 250- to 500-word scenes to a 2,500 story or a 3,500-word book chapter. Six assignments in all. $600. All instructors.
NOVEL WRITING TUTORIAL – Whether you’re just embarking on the great adventure of writing a novel or are midway through the journey, this tutorial will help you find your way to completing the book. Assignments include a book idea, a 250- to 500-word scene, a character sketch, a first chapter, an outline, and a revision. Course may be repeated, adding further assignments as students progress through the writing and completing an entire manuscript. Text: The Weekend Novelist by Robert Ray. $500. Instructor: Jana Harris.
INTRODUCTION TO TRAVEL WRITING - The romance of travel writing is easy to understand. Who wouldn’t like to go on an all-expense paid trip to a Hawaiian resort? How about traveling the Whiskey Trail through the American South, visiting the best micro distilleries? Or what about a food and wine tour of Argentina? These are all trips I have turned down recently, mostly from lack of time. Would you like to go in my place? Sign up for the class you’ll learn the techniques of travel writing which can lead to getting invited on these trips. Travel writing is one of the most exciting genres of nonfiction, calling on all of an author’s skills—dramatic scenes, character sketches, concrete detail, point of view, scene by scene construction. Through readings, written assignments and individual critiques, students will gain a practical grasp of these techniques. Class will discuss where to market work. Text: The Travel Writer’s Handbook. Six assignments including a 1,500- to 2,500-word travel story and its revision. $500. Instructor: Nicholas O’Connell.
INTRODUCTION TO NATURE WRITING - Nature writing is one of the most appealing genres of nonfiction, providing an opportunity to reconnect with the natural world. Learn techniques such as concrete detail, dramatic scene, characterization, point of view, and a dash of humor to vividly describe your experiences of wild nature. This online nature and adventure writing class provides an extensive introduction to the art and craft of the genre. This course will offer an opportunity to learn the secrets of writing nature narratives, including shaping story ideas, keeping a nature journal, structuring stories and essays, and where to send them for publication. Text: Writing about Nature by John Murray. Six assignments include a story idea, character sketch, dramatic scene, 1,500- to 2,500-word story and its revision, and a cover letter. $500. Instructor: Nicholas O’Connell.
INTRODUCTION TO FICTION WRITING – This introductory online fiction writing class teaches the process of writing from the ground up. Specifically targeted early writing assignments and readings help you get started with your writing. Later assignments provide you with the fundamental tools of narrative writing, including plotting, character development, and point-of-view. In the course of this fiction writing class, you’ll complete a story sketch, a story beginning, a plot chart, and a polished draft of a short story. Text: Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway. $500. Instructor: Scott Driscoll.
INTERMEDIATE FICTION WRITING – This online course builds on the skills learned in the introductory class, combining readings and writing exercises to help you master the key elements introduced during the first course. Readings and critiques will allow you to gain greater control of your short stories. In this fiction writing class, you will continue to produce new work, develop editing skills and explore the subtler shades of the fiction writing craft such as scene and sequel, fictional time, narrative distance and plotting. Text: Points of Views. $500. Instructor: Scott Driscoll.
ADVANCED FICTION WRITING – This online course helps you draft and revise your fiction, sharpens your expertise as a reader, writer, and editor, and encourages you to find your own approach to the art of fiction writing. You will strengthen your skills in working with narrative voice, dialogue, fictional use of time, and other advanced tricks of the fiction writing trade. Finally, you’ll research publishing markets and learn how to prepare your manuscript for publication. Text: Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway. $500. Instructor: Scott Driscoll.
INTRODUCTION TO POETRY WRITING – Poetry, it has been said, is a telephone line to the unconscious. In poetry we learn to make wild, unorthodox associations leading to the discovery of new connections. This poetry writing class will allow you to explore the delights of poetic form and language while learning the basics of the craft. Six assignments, including a free verse poem, dramatic monologue, nursery rhyme, and sonnet. Text: The Discovery of Poetry, by Frances Mayes. $500. Instructor: Jana Harris.
WRITING FOR YOUNG ADULTS – Do you have a son or daughter who loves to write but lacks quality instruction and individual attention? Does your child need help writing essays for school or college applications or simply for self-expression? If yes, consider signing up for this course, which provides expert, encouraging instruction in the art of persuasive writing. Short, targeted assignments include quick grammar exercises and keys to writing effective sentences and paragraphs. Longer assignments are focused on the argumentative basics that students will need to succeed in college: creating a strong thesis, learning to how to incorporate evidence, and establishing authority on the page through sharp organization and a proper appeal to emotions. All in all, this class will help your child reach his or her potential—whether in school or for personal growth. Six assignments in all, including a persuasive essay and a personal essay. $500. Instructor: Scott Driscoll or Jessica Murphy.
INTRODUCTION TO CREATIVE WRITING FOR YOUNG ADULTS – From Harry Potter to Shakespeare to The Da Vinci Code, creative writing is one of the most satisfying and timeless of art forms, teaching us universal truths about ourselves and our relationship to the world. In this course, you’ll learn the building blocks of fiction and poetry. We’ll cover the component parts of poetry by studying and writing sonnets and then delve into fiction with readings and exercises to help you establish character, setting, and structure, culminating in a 1,000-word story. All in all, there are six assignments. By the end of the course you will possess the basics needed to create work that excites, moves, and transports readers. Text: Fiction Writer’s Workshop, by Josip Novakovich. Cost: $500. Instructor: Scott Driscoll or Jessica Murphy.
You can pay by sending a check to Nick O’Connell, 201 Newell St., Seattle, WA 98109 or click on Paypal.com to pay with a credit card.