Distance learning is an alternative
For most emerging writers, enrolling in an adult-learning program is an exciting experience. At long last, for a period of time that is long enough to make a difference, you give yourself the opportunity to immerse yourself in learning the “best practices” of the writing craft that you has been so wanting to learn for a long time.
An adult-learning program which will help you to master writing might be a university course, a local workshop, a one-on-one relationship with a mentor, or a tele-course over telephone and/or internet.
Many, perhaps most, adult learners, with responsibilities that often include a family, a job, a home, you are unable like your adolescent counterpart to take time out—months, even years—to leave your life to devote yourself to mastering the craft of writing.
Distance learning opens your world up
In the last thirty years, there has arisen, in response to this situation that adults wanting to learn find themselves in, the phenomenon of “distance learning.” Distance learning usually involves correspondence, telephone contact with a teacher and with other learners and no (or very little) in-person contact. Some distance programs have a once- or twice-a-year residencies while others have no residency requirements at all.
The MFA writing programs for writers have proven popular because they allow adults to explore writing while maintaining their lives. I have friends who have gotten MFAs at Vermont College (formerly Goddard College), Warren Wilson College, and New Hampshire College—all the while continuing to live at home and work at their jobs.
Non-academic community programs
In addition to the academic low- or no-residency programs, there have arisen a number of private writing-training programs, usually in large cities. These are neither distance nor degree programs. They are community-based workshops that allow a writer to improve her skills without focusing on degree requirements nor leaving home (since the student lives nearby).
If you live in a big city with choices of non-academic writing programs, you may be in luck. But, for most people the best choice is the distance learning provided by non-academic workshops.
Distance learning as a non-academic choice
A writing-mastery option has arisen with the development of the internet and digital technology. These are courses taught by master writers whose resources are delivered electronically via e-mail or downloaded via the internet. When there is a live portion to these courses, it is delivered via telephone or via tele-conferencing technology. Wherever you live, you have access to the content and the instructor, to the opportunity to become a better writer. These courses can be rigorous and include much of the same curriculum as a college program—at a fraction of the cost.
A tele-course: a precious opportunity for you
The time you set aside to develop as a writer is a gift that you give it to your self, to the writer within you struggling for expression and development. During the time of a tele-course semester, in the company of a writing community and of a writing mentor, as an emerging writer, you get to explore your story: its characters, its narrative, its dramatic arc, and so much more. You get to expand on our story as you receive feedback from your writing companions and to explore stories that you had always thought, because you understood them, that others would too. With help from your classmates who live all over the country and the perhaps the world, you begin to wonder if perhaps there is not more—or less—to some of the stories than you had thought.
Over the time that you linger with your story, it will frequently begin to change—not the facts and dates, but the interpretation and the metaphors and images you use, the vignettes you choose to include or omit. You will see your story in ways that you may not have seen it before—in ways that you could not discern when you were writing alone.
When you are working by yourself, it can be easy to dismiss your insights or to inflate beyond them what they are. Within the context of the group—your first audience—mirroring back to you what your story meant to them, you will be constantly tuned to what needs to be done to put your story across to a reader. You learn to take yourself seriously as a writer and perhaps even more seriously as a person whose story can guide other people in this journey of life.
In a distance learning course, you are mentored by a master writer, someone who has spent long periods of time observing emerging writers and can dialogue with you and make specific suggestions to improve your manuscript. But, the mentoring does not stop with your teacher: it continues with the entire group. Your fellow writers, who like you are committed to learning their craft and improving their skills, will help you to explore, expand, reinterpret and reconfigure your story. Your classmates and your teacher provide a precious opportunities to become the best writer you can be.
It’s always a balance
Others, in your distance learning course, will be somewhat like you. Every writer in the group will have an otherwise busy schedule and may have family, a home to maintain, and a job. There is no one in the group who does not have to balance this and that to find the time to write a memoir.
As we write in isolation, we writers can fall into the trap of feeling or thinking “If only I had uninterrupted time to write as other writers do.”
All the time in the world to write without interruptions is a wonderful idea, but it is something that very few writers have in their lives. We all have active lives. We all face the task of finding time to write—everybody. You will find this witness to the commitment to be a writer to be something precious that you will acquire during a long distance course as you are working with the other writers.
Perhaps this understanding and acceptance of one of the foundations of the writer’s life—the need to balance—will be the first important learning you acquire in a tele-course.
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