My 3-year-old son started preschool today. Seeing his eyes light up at the sight of his new classroom filled with toys, books, dress-up clothes, and a sand table made me think back to my days of starting school. Even though I graduated years (YEARS!) ago, I still get an urge for learning when fall comes.
So it’s no accident that I signed up for my first online writing class with Christina Katz four Octobers ago. I was home with a 4-mo.-old baby and itching to connect with other adults and use my brain again. In Writing and Publishing the Short Stuff, I wrote the first draft of an essay that was eventually published in American Baby.
A great success, for sure, but this was no fluke. See, as a freelance writer for over a decade, I’ve made continuing education a regular part of my career. Yes, I consider freelancing a career. Not a hobby, not something to do while my kids are small. And because of that, I have absolutely no qualms about paying for writing classes. After all, when I worked for various employers, I attended conferences, workshops, and training sessions to keep up with my industry and learn new skills. Now that I’m self-employed, why should it be any different?
That said, as a student – and now instructor – of many writing classes over the years, I’ve learned some things about getting the most bang for your buck.
Do your homework. BEFORE you sign up for the class, I mean. Check out the instructor’s experience and credentials. Read testimonials from previous students. E-mail the instructor and ask him or her additional questions, if you have them.
But don’t do what I did: I once chose an instructor based solely on the fact that she worked for a prestigious publication. Big mistake. Not only did the class NOT give me an “in” at that publication, but the instructor was terrible. I said so in my evaluation, by the way, and that instructor did not teach that class again as far as I know.
Do your homework again. This time, I mean the assigned class work. I know, I know, you’re busy. You try. Things come up. But you absolutely get out of a class what you put into it. If the instructor asks you to research potential markets at the bookstore or library, don’t take shortcuts and do a Google search. You might miss out on a brand-new magazine that just hit the newsstand, or overhearing someone talking about a writing contest they’re entering.
Be a pest. OK, not really. But when you pay for a class, you’re paying not only for the lessons but for the instructor’s expertise as well. So ask those questions you’ve been wondering about. If your instructor is willing, they might even let you send in an extra cover letter or article to be critiqued. (I sometimes do for extra-motivated students.) You’ll never know unless you ask.
Build on your momentum. After a class is over, most students are raring to go. Take advantage of that boost of enthusiasm – revise your critiqued work. Send out those queries/articles/essays right away. Sign up for the next class. Ask your fellow classmates if anyone wants to be your writing buddy.
I can honestly say that every time I’ve taken an online writing class I have more than made back the cost of it. That is 100% true. If it’s not from selling a piece I wrote in class, it’s through a connection I made with an instructor or fellow classmate, or by finding out about a new market or contest. Being a frugal and practical person, I think there’s an element of “I paid good money for this class, I better make sure it pays off!”
And it has, every time. Give yourself permission to invest in your career. I bet you’ll find, like me that it pays off in ways you never dreamed of.
Abigail Green has published more than 150 articles and essays in regional and national publications including American Baby, Baltimore Magazine, Bride’s, Cooking Light, and Health. Her work also appears in A Cup of Comfort for New Mothers. (Adams Media, 2009). Abby holds a B.A. from Vassar College and an M.A. in publishing from the University of Baltimore. She writes the “Crib Notes” column for The Writer Mama e-zine and the “Understanding Personal Essays” column for Writers on the Rise. She teaches the 6-week e-course “Personal Essays That Get Published,” the next session of which starts Oct. 7. A mother of two boys, she blogs about parenting, publishing and more at http://diaryofanewmom.blogspot.com.