L Is for Lifelong Learning
Today I am very happy to share an interview with online writing instructor Christi Craig. Christi and I first met, appropriately enough, online several years ago through a writers’ social network, and when we realized we lived only a few miles from each other, we began to meet in person. Christi is a writer’s writer: an essayist, storyteller, novelist, blogger, and writing teacher. She gave me the idea to write flash narratives, convinced me to use my real name as my Twitter handle, and is a good friend and continual source of support and inspiration.
Last year I took a couple of Christi’s online writing courses, and one of my responses to her prompts, thanks to her top-notch editing skills, found its way to publication. That’s not the only reason to consider taking her online classes, however, as she explains below. Her newest course—Write, Critique. Rinse, Repeat—runs through the month of May and has a sign-up deadline of April 23.
Christi Craig on Taking & Teaching Online Writing Courses
Do you have any experience in taking online writing courses or workshops, and, if so, what do you like most about the experience as a participant?
My very first writing course after a long hiatus was an online class with Ariel Gore. The story goes: I had complained to a good friend one too many times about the fact that I really wanted to be a writer, but how could I write with two young kids and a day job and almost fifteen years distance from any kind of English class I took in college, and on and on and on. She finally turned to me and said, “Why don’t you stop complaining and do something about it.” You can always count on a good friend to nip your pity-party in the bud. So I said, Fine, I will. I marched right to the library, ran my fingertip along the spines of several books on writing, and landed on one in particular: How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead by Ariel Gore. Who could resist a book with that title?
In her book, I learned about her 8-week online course, Lit Star Training, and within a few months I signed up. Ariel’s course provided writing assignments (both short and long) and a safe place for critique, perfect for a newbie like me. Especially since those early pieces of mine were “issue pieces,” as I call them–necessary writing but reeking of melodrama. No one in the class batted an eye at my very rough work; every other writer and Ariel Gore gave me thorough and thoughtful feedback and much-needed confidence to keep moving forward with my writing. Plus, I began building my writing community there. As the course neared the end, several of us from the class decided to self-publish a tiny anthology of our work. So, in a sense, this first online writing course turned out to by my first foray into serious creative writing, editing, and publishing.
I still take online courses, most recently with Joan Dempsey. This style of learning continues to be a great way to work with excellent instructors and writers outside the borders of my hometown without the expense of travel.
What are some of the differences and similarities between online and in-person classes?
The differences lie mostly in logistics.
- Online courses offer flexibility in scheduling, as there’s usually no set time that you have to be online and work can be spread out over days or weeks; in-person classes require you to show up at a specific hour and place and are usually run in a concentrated amount of time.
- Feedback happens on-the-spot with in-person classes and sometimes (but not always) only grazes the surface, while a reader can take more time with an online course and give the writer a deeper critique.
- There’s some anonymity with online courses in the sense that (if you’re new to the workshop experience) you can click SEND, share your work, and let go for the moment of what others may think of it; with in-person classes you might read your work aloud and sit in a long moment of silence (aka discomfort) while readers feverishly mark up your paper—not necessarily a drawback, as reading aloud and waiting for immediate feedback forces you to leave your ego behind and focus solely on the work.
Whether you’re looking for a more flexible schedule or a face-to-face group critique, both online and in-person classes offer camaraderie that we as writers need. We write our stories alone, but we grow in confidence and in skill when we mingle in numbers. Any kind of course provides that invaluable community, challenging us to learn more, revise better, and continue to create.
What do you enjoy about being an online teacher?
As I said earlier, I love the opportunity to connect with writers near and far. I had a student who was living in the Caribbean when I ran a class and another who was traveling in Scotland at the time. I also love how online technology allows for greater ease in sharing the work and resources surrounding the craft of writing. There are plenty of podcasts and videos out there that I use to minimize the two-dimensional “stare at print on screen for hours” aspect of online learning. And I really love the flexibility in scheduling and extended time for critique. Not only am I a busy mom with a day job who appreciates being able to log in early or late or any hour in between, I am also a thoughtful critique partner…meaning, I like to read a piece, put it down, think on it, read it again, and then leave comments. Online courses allow for that kind of process.
What are some tips for participants for getting the most out of an online writing class?
Try all the exercises, even if you think the work you will produce will be awful. It’s the practice that counts. Find a class that will stimulate you but not overwhelm you. And know what you’re signing up for.
If you take an online class that draws thousands of participants from all over the world, assume the discussion boards will be busy and maybe difficult to stay on top of. If you’re okay missing chunks of discussion because the lessons and resources are worth your time alone, then you will still gain a ton from that experience. If you want to participate on all levels and don’t have as much time to dedicate to sifting through conversations online, then look for courses with limited seating.
What kind of person is a particularly good fit for an online class?
A writer who likes structure but also wants control over their time; someone who is a self-starter (there’s no instructor in front of you putting on the pressure!); someone who is also at least a little tech-savvy. Several of my classes are a good fit for the writer who’s been on break for a while or who is new to the process, which I love. If I can create a safe and creative atmosphere like the one I experienced in my first class, then I count the course a success.
Tell us a little about your new class. What about it excites you?
Write, Critique. Rinse, Repeat is writing-intensive with brief lessons on story techniques and tips on critique, warm-up writing exercises, and longer assignments each week: prompts, prompts, and more prompts. I’m excited about this course, because I know how hard it is to generate new work; I can get stuck on revisions and rewriting and not creating anything completely new for months on end. And I know the value in getting feedback on work sooner than later. This is a course that will provide opportunity for writers to build their repertoire and workshop those pieces in quick succession—and then move on to another new piece. There won’t be time to linger on what you did right or didn’t do enough of or why you are doing this at all. The course is a place to gather with other writers, see what they’re creating and read what they’re saying about the craft, a place to rediscover why stories matter—why your stories matter—because they do.
Christi Craig lives in Wisconsin, working by day as a sign language interpreter and moonlighting as a writer, teacher, and editor. Her stories and essays have appeared online and in print in places such as Hippocampus Magazine and The Drum, and she received an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train’s Family Matters Competition. She teaches writing classes in-person and online, focusing on story technique, creativity, and critique. Visit her website at christicraig.com.
This post is part of the April A to Z Blog Challenge. For more on my 2016 theme of Private Revolution, see A Is for Ambition. Click here to read all posts in the Private Revolution A to Z Challenge blog series.