As an incorrigible philomath, each year I enroll in at least two continuing education courses. This fall, I began an online writing course, Writing Well, offered by the U of C as part of its Professional Writing certificate. In my job as communicator, writing is something I do every day, and I am always on the lookout for opportunities to become a better and more effective writer. But I have to admit, before taking the course I vacillated a bit. Other schools, like the University of Toronto, for example, offer more interesting writing programs. The only problem with these programs is that I live in Calgary, and the programs are not offered online. The U of C’s online course seemed to fit the bill, and I signed up.
Since Writing Well is a prerequisite to the more specialized writing courses offered in the program, I expected some basics, like grammar and punctuation; potentially group projects; definitely lots of theory and little practice; predominantly business and academic writing; and a report for final assignment. I was prepared to be bored. Besides, the course itself and the two required textbooks cost me an arm and a leg. But as an old adage goes: no pains, no gains. Who said that education is supposed to be cheap or fun?
Was I in for a huge surprise. The moment I opened my textbook The Writer’s Way I got unequivocally and irrevocably excited about everything in the course. I got thrilled about the license to experiment and explore and to write about almost anything I wanted and how I wanted. IN FIRST PERSON! (If you are a business or technical writer, you’d know what I am talking about.) There are no group projects; instead, we use peer feedback. The course outline is clear and straightforward and includes a checklist — what a life saver! Each week I need to write three paragraphs in response to the prompts offered by the instructor; review one paragraph for my fellow students in a group of four; write a one-page notebook entry, which is supposed to represent a piece of more polished writing; read assigned chapters in the textbooks; complete online grammar exercises; and work on my essay for the final assignment. Sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? It is. But it’s also fun, and you learn a lot.
Even though I’ve got a couple of more weeks to go, the course has already helped me in many ways. I am definitely a more confident writer than I was before. My on-the-job writing has become easier and more enjoyable: a six-page newsletter that used to take me at least a couple of weeks to draft, now takes less than a week. (I just discovered that when I had to pull it together on a short notice.) What’s more, my drafts return to me from the reviewing colleagues with less or no red ink. I’ve finally gathered the courage to start this blog and begun posting to it. I hope I can keep it up and write regularly. I’ve definitely improved my punctuation and learned how to better organize my writing. I’ve also learned several new strategies for generating ideas and overcoming writer’s block, and gained a better understanding of what a good title and introduction look like. Most important, I’ve been sufficiently challenged and motivated and enjoyed interactions with my instructors and fellow students in a supportive and stimulating environment. Best of all, thanks to this course, I’ve given myself permission to be a writer.
This course is a great tool and is worth every dollar I’ve spent on it.