Of Writing and Learning and M.O.O.C.s

I guess I really am a lifelong learner. Comes of being as curious as a cat. About anything and everything.

I began this evening optimistically prepared to finish knitting a hat while cheering the Chicago Cubs on to a victory in The Series. At the bottom of the seventh inning I was feeling too despondent to continue either effort. I turned to my laptop for comfort, logging into the M.O.O.C. I am currently participating in.

I learned a few weeks ago that an M.O.O.C. is a Massive Online Open Course. Or maybe it is a massive open online course, but who’s quibbling? I was delighted when I discovered the University of Iowa offers one, apparently annually, for writers. And it is free, gratis, no charge (unless you want to go for a certificate of completion). This year I enrolled, again fully optimistic about what it might offer and the U. of Iowa, unlike the Chicago Cubs, has not disappointed.

Assignments so far have been Voice and Identity, Desire and Point of View, and Cast and Plot.

Each week there is a video presentation by a variety of writing teachers on a topic (you can see the first three lesson topic in the screenshot above), followed by a reading assignment illustrative of the topic. Then we are given a writing assignment, and asked to participate in both classroom discussions posted by various instructors, and in giving feedback to fellow writers once they submit their piece of writing for the week.

I am having a total blast. My only regret is that there is a surfeit of riches, especially in all the discussion posts, but also in the abundance of writing samples being submitted from writers all around the globe. It is a humongous understatement to call these online course offerings “massive”. It’s more like a Noah’s flood of stimulation and there are not enough hours in a day to dive into everything there.

The stimulation is real. I am, to be honest, astonished at how fruitful the writing assignments have been. Also surprisingly, the writing has been coming easily, which is not this writer’s usual experience. Usually it more like that agonizing quote we have all seen, and which I paraphrase here, ‘to write, just open a vein and bleed on the page.’ (Credited variously to  sports columnist Red Smith or possibly Ernest Hemingway or Thomas Wolfe.)

So far the first two assignments have given me the first two scenes of what I think will be a  short story with three scenes, each told from the point of view of a different character. The third assignment has resulted in a good draft of a stand alone short story of roughly two thousand words. I am simply delighted. I am learning and practicing. I don’t think a good writer can ever stop doing either of those.

If you want to write, first just write. But along with that, read voraciously and take classes, participate in discussions, as often as you are able. Besides improving your writing, it is sheer fun. Oh, and read two specific books: Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and Stephen King’s On Writing.  These are a couple of the best I have found.


2 thoughts on “Of Writing and Learning and M.O.O.C.s

  1. Glad to hear this course is valuable to you. I registered also, and found the first week to be fun and informative. Then, I sputtered. It’s been hard to get back to it, not because it’s difficult, but just because so much goes on in my life all the time. I’m hoping to get back to it this week.


    1. I hope you do find some time in your busy schedule to join in again. If you have time for nothing else, go to each assignment and download the pdf transcript of the video, plus the additional resources listed. That way, when time opens up a little bit, perhaps during those long nights of winter, you can pop one open and benefit from the writing tips and information there. They really are sharing good information. I’m also encouraged by the quality of the ‘student’ writing I see being submitted. Good luck to you.


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