This is a four week online course and as I'm departing Brisbane on Tuesday for a while I thought I'd write my assessment of it before I go, although I haven't quite completed the course. I have both negative and positive things to say about it (naturally).
THE THINGS I DIDN'T LIKE
First : for just 4 weeks it's quite expensive (Earlybird - $375 ; Full course - $495). I compared this with a ten week Gotham (NY) fee which came to about $400.00 and I didn't think there was any parity at all when comparing the quality and amount of tuition. Gotham won hands down.
Second: the web interface itself is very poorly put together. I write web materials, inter alia, for a living and I was surprised that an organisation teaching writing did not practise the essence of good web writing, an important element of which of course is presentation. There were different coloured and sizes of font scattered about on the pages. (Here's a typical page -
http://www.writerstudio.com.au/enter.html) This makes for unnecessarily difficult reading and comprehension.
Third: the instructional materials themselves consisted of an enormous amount of quoting from other sources, the sort of thing it isn't hard to pick up from reading a good book on writing, and books don't cost nearly so much. There were also podcasts which I haven't yet had time to listen to, and a really dodgy powerpoint which consisted of a black background overwritten with white texts with other white text overlaid. In other words the slideshow was unreadable in places, and basically a lot of puffery and spin in any case when it could be penetrated.
Fourth: the tutor's feedback is contingent upon the amount of feedback each student posts on the work of others. In other words if you don't critique the work of your colleagues you won't get any feedback from the Writers Studio on your own work. This seemed a nice way for the Writers Studio to make its clients do most of the work, so to speak. I felt that paying about $100 p.w. should guarantee useful feedback from the writing supervisors, irrespective of class participation.
Fifth: the web interface for posting and critiquing suffered from the same problem as the Writers Studio website itself, that is it's muddled, hard to sift through and in the end an infinitely lengthening page of posts and comments (which of course mostly detailed how fabulous everyone's writing was) .
Sixth: expectations in the first two weeks were so very basic as to be all but pointless. As well as that no-one was permitted to write anything but glowing praise for anyone else's work, and that included whatever the tutors wrote on our own submission. This of course immediately downgraded the usefulness of any feedback at all as I, cynical old baby-boomer that I am, consider that parameters like that mean one can write any old rubbish and still expect to be showered with praise. The exercises from these first two weeks were very much to do with self-expression, an aspect of writing I find tiresomely self-absorbed even (or especially) in my own stuff.
THINGS I DID LIKE
Week 3 all but over-rode the negative opinion I had formed of 'Unlocking Creativity'. The whole week's instructions and exercises were extremely useful to me. I suddenly found myself working really hard and in ways I had never known about before. There was also the curious synchronicity (annoying word) of coming across, at the same time, the chapter in Kate
Grenville's book "Searching for the Secret River" where she details her own struggles to arrive at the right voice and the right characters and the right narrative for her wonderful novel "The secret river". In essence she outlines a process she often resorts to when her writing has hit a false note, and which was quite close to the process we were practising in our Writers Studio Week 3 exercises. This impressed me heaps.
Week 4 is to take this even further and we are expected to complete a short short story. Sadly for me I'm going to have to be a bit skimpy in the way I do this as I'll be driving down
the back of New South Wales when normally I would be hunched over my laptop on the kitchen table, listening to my neighbours 'dialogue' while poised to extrude a sentence or two.
The quality of much of the submissions was also generally a pleasure to read, there were a few very skilled writers posting their work.
In summary I'm not sorry I decided on this course, I've found part of it to be extremely helpful. It's also true that the course is called 'Unlocking creativity', not 'Writing fiction' - in other words it's meant to be teaching a process by which one can tap into the imagination more freely, and that of course is always going to be helpful when trying to improve ones writing skills.