MOOCs and writing

I work for a public state college in a state – Florida – with an anti-education governor. As a result our college has had its budget cut every year for the past three or four years, and one of the first things to go was funding for continuing education. At our college the librarians are faculty, and as such we’re expected to attend conferences in our field. To get promoted, we have to present at conferences and/or get papers published. And we do it on our own dime.

I’ve tried, as much as possible, to take continuing ed courses online. There are a lot of one-hour webinars available, and I’ve participated in several (and presented at one). A one-hour webinar isn’t substantial enough to count as my annual professional development goal, though, so I’ve turned to MOOCs.

A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course, and they are available in almost any j0439254subject you’d like to pursue. I’ve taken a couple for professional purposes – institutional disaster planning and evaluating consumer health information – and one for fun on plants. Right now I’m taking one on writing.

It’s called Start Writing Fiction, and it’s being given by an organization called FutureLearn which operates from the Open University, based in the UK. It’s an eight-week course and we’re beginning week six. I have mixed feelings about it so far. It was advertised as being for anyone who’s anywhere in the writing process, but in reality it’s best suited for people who are just beginning to write stories. I guess the “Start” in the title should have been a clue. đŸ˜€

We’ve had short excerpts to read from other writers, and watched video of writers talking about how they do what they do. Most of it has focused on developing character, and developing our powers of observation to get ideas from the people we see around us.

That hasn’t been incredibly useful to me. As you know if you’ve read my books, I’ve got a pretty good handle on my characters. We’ve had to develop and turn in a couple of character sketches, and those exercises have been interesting, but they don’t actually help me develop new characters. And we haven’t discussed plot at all. The mantra that the instructors operate on is that plot flows from character. I agree to some extent, but in a murder mystery that’s not entirely true.

So it’s been enjoyable, but not incredibly useful for someone who’s already published six books. đŸ˜€ Two years ago, when I first started thinking about writing Cited to Death, I took an online course through the University of Central Florida on mystery writing. It wasn’t a MOOC – I had to pay $89 – but it was worth every penny. I learned a lot from that, both about plot and character.

The moral of the story, I suppose, is this: if you want to take a course on writing, try to take one that focuses on your genre. You’ll get more out of it. If you truly are just starting out and don’t even have a genre yet, then one of these nonspecific MOOCs might work just fine.


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