Archive for the 'education' Category

30 places to find free online courses for writers

February 8, 2008

Via Lifehacker, 10 places to get writing courses online including MIT, Utah State, Purdue’s Online Writing Lab (more of a reference, less of a class repository, but whatever), and more.

Another free way to improve your writing: join a critique circle. I dabbled in a few through (just punch in your city/state and “writing” and you should get some results) and wasn’t impressed, but it’s all about finding a group with whom you work well. I took a fiction writing class in college three times because I knew the instructor was brilliant and that he’d bring amazing things out of the group. I think it’s harder to get this dynamic without an established leader/authority figure, but not impossible.

And last, courtesy of Freelance Writing Jobs, 20 more course offerings, with little overlap because this list includes courses that cost money.

I’m wary of online courses that cost upwards of $300, but I’m loath to make a snap judgment and say they are not worth it. Has anyone tried an online, paid course?


On alma maters (matri? almae matres? HELP)

January 14, 2008

Flickr: cassetteject

(Note: I originally was going to post this on Scrapple Spring Rolls, but got so tied up in the language issues that I thought it might fit here.)

I graduated 6 months ago. (More than that, actually, but let’s go with the figure of 6.)So why does my school have no official record of this? Still? Now, this is less alarming than it seems, first because I have an official diploma in hand, and second because they have NO record of ANY class of 2007 graduates– no alumni or alumnae can log into their alumni page. (A rephrasing: No alumnus or alumna log into his or her page, if the lucky graduate received a degree this May.)
So, y’know, it’s not my problem and all I have to do is call them every so often and nag them about actually entering these folks’ names into their database. I now wonder if this is common, or if my alma mater is not, perhaps, as “with it” as other matres/maters. (Matrixes?!? AGH)

(Full disclosure: Latin declensions, cases, plurals and all that just confuse the bejeesus out of me. I relied heavily on Doc Durden’s Guide To Good Grammar to make this post. No wonder everyone just says “alum”–but to me, that sounds like a chemical.)

Make your interview questions knock ’em down

January 11, 2008
Roger Clemens, who was named in the Mitchell Report as a user of performance-enhancing drugs, appeared on ’60 Minutes’ last Sunday. That’s about as much sports as I can handle, but over at, journalism teacher/mentor John Sawatsky explains how 60 Minutes should have conducted the interview (the segment was pre-taped) and how interviewer Mike Wallace threw only softballs.

Successful interviews get people to go further than they planned to go, and rarely come from a planned list of questions, even when the questions are good ones. Interviewing does not work that way. It is a dynamic process involving two basic stages. Stage 1 is planned; Stage 2 exploits the moment that Stage 1 produces, whenever and however it occurs.

If Wallace has really put Clemens to the test, he did so using a strategy that ties his questions together so the whole is more than the sum of the parts. Rather than “confronting” Clemens, Wallace will have established some basic points of agreement. Accountability inevitably comes out of agreement, not fireworks. It’s the only practical way to get Clemens to open up and come clean. [Source]

The whole article is worth a read. As for more interviewing tips, I enjoyed former colleague Kevin Flowers‘ tip that he gave a roomful of starry-eyed interns at the Erie Times-News—”put ’em on the defensive.” The theory being that someone who feels they have something to prove are more likely to speak out of emotion rather than coolly reading a press statement.

Clemens was on 60 minutes last Sunday. You can read a transcript of how the interview actually went here.

Tuesday’s Tools: “Write the Perfect Book Proposal”

October 16, 2007

(This is the sixth in a weekly series about tools for writers. For the rest of the series, go here.)

In the coming weeks, I’ll cover some free resources for nonfiction book writers, but I’d like to showcase this book as it’s the best non-free tool I’ve found for book proposal writers. (Unless you go to your local library, as I did. Then it’s freer than free! Hooray for libraries!)

Write the Perfect Book Proposal: 10 That Sold and Why
dissects ten real proposals, almost line by line, showing what worked and what didn’t, in the opinions of two literary agents who are pretty good at what they do. I haven’t found a book with as many real-world examples as this one, which is why I’d recommend it for some nonfiction writers.

However, some caveats: The book is geared towards what fills most of America’s bookshelves: self-help, business, and advice books. If you’re leaning toward creative nonfiction–memoir, literary journalism, or any other nonfiction writing where the quality of your writing is just as important as your credentials, you won’t find much of use here beyond the basics. Creative nonfiction has really exploded recently (or so I’ve been told), so perhaps the Levines could include at least one creative nonfiction proposal in their next edition.

Quickie: The origin of “to 86” and other diner numbers

October 15, 2007

This classic Straight Dope has the skinny on the origins of the phrase “to 86.” It was, apparently, “diner code,” and Cecil Adams gives other examples. Some seem faintly ridiculous–“19 = ‘I yearn for a banana split'”–but it’s the best etymology I’ve seen for this phrase.