What You Can Learn From Free College-Level Online Writing Courses

The author Toni Morrison once said, “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Sage advice, but new and intermediate writers may need to first hone their skills a bit. What can they do? Take some free writing courses. A writing course serves as a fine-grained whetstone, giving a sharp edge to roughly textured writing skills.

Where can you take free writing courses? The Internet made the world a much smaller place, and free courses from leading institutions around the world are now available online.

Here are some of the best free online writing courses. The comments for each course are short summaries based on the course descriptions:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

MIT offers a few of its past writing courses on its website. Take a writing course and tell your friends you’ve been accepted to MIT! To incorporate “quark spin” into your next novel, go to this MIT web page! If that doesn’t spark your creativity (and chances are it won’t), then maybe The Creative Spark is more worthy of your time. Professor Karen Boiko taught the course back in 2004. The objective of the course is to develop effective writing and speaking skills along with helping students become aware of their own purpose as a writer.

Another MIT course, entitled Writing and Reading Short Stories, focuses on the craft of – you guessed it – the short story.

Open University

This University is the largest academic institution in the United Kingdom. It offers a number of excellent free-of-charge, online writing courses, including:

  • Start Writing Fiction. Improve your skills in creating characters and settings.
  • Approaching Prose Fiction. Covers the settings of novels, narrative events and perspectives, types of characterization, and genre. It’s designed as an intermediate level course.
  • Writing What you Know. Enhance your descriptive writing abilities. The course also reviews how authors use their own personal history to form the basis of their work. This one is an introductory course.

Warwick University

Warwick University, also located in the United Kingdom, offers a collection of courses in its Podcast Browser. David Morley, Director of the Warwick Writing Programme, leads you through a series of creative writing challenges designed to help you develop your creativity and talent as a writer. You also have the opportunity to send your work for evaluation.

Purdue University

Purdue Online Writing Lab’s Fiction Writing Basics course teaches writing techniques for beginning and intermediate fiction writers. The course covers the basics of plot, theme, character, point-of-view, and conflict.

The average price for an online writing course is $400. So try one of these free courses and save yourself some money!

Brian Jenkins writes about career and school information for writers, among other topics, for BrainTrack.com.

Reading Fiction to Improve Your Writing Skills

Most writers are voracious readers as well, devouring books as fast as our busy lives will allow us. This love of reading starts at a young age, as fairy tales and the magic of books turns us on to the allure of the written word. Yet, when we are struggling with our own writing, it is easy to forget to go back to the source, and read a few books to renew our first love.

There are so many variations of fiction writing available that it is hard to decide which ones to read first. As writers, we want to use our reading time to our best advantage, reading works that will infuse our writing with renewed enthusiasm and inspiration. It is difficult to just read for pleasure. I find myself picking apart stories as I go, commenting to myself on the author’s use of metaphor or point of view. Choosing the right story will help you relax your editor’s brain, allow you to be fully immersed in the story as you read it, and come away with new writing techniques.

Classic Vs. Modern Books

When most writers think of reading to inspire writing, they turn to the literary classics, books that we may have read in school that have been deemed timeless and well written. It can be fun to read these tomes of literature, and examining them for creative word play and stunning characterization. Millions of people have enjoyed these works, and many more will for years to come.

However, writing is a constantly evolving medium, spanning the centuries. Styles, topics of interest, and audiences have all changed over time. Therefore, the classic books may not help you write a fantastic novel today. Reading modern novels will keep you on the front page of writing style, and act as a breath of fresh air to your writing. If you already have a stack of new books waiting to be read – or queued up in your Kindle – enjoy them without a sense of guilt for not reading the classic works of literature.

Genre Novels Vs. Literary Fiction

Choosing what genre to read within is another point of contention for the reading writer. As a reader, you have your favorite genres to read within, which may or may not be the same as what you write within. For instance, I love writing fantasy stories, but I read fantasy, science fiction, and even the occasional romance novel. It is up to you to decide whether reading a story within your genre is inspiring or off-putting. A well-written book causes me to whip out my own notebook, and a poorly written one encourages me to write a story far and away better!

Literary works are considered the cream of the crop in writing circles, but often these novels aren’t written for the masses. Their artistic value as uniquely crafted wordplay tends to make them hard to follow for the average reader. If you enjoy literary works, by all means read them! If you don’t, then go ahead and pass them by for something that will refill your well.

Novels Vs. Short Stories

In writing, the length of the story does matter. Novels have room for lots of twists, turns, and subplots, weaving an engaging story that leaves the reader wanting even more. Short stories are powerful within their brevity, making a single, poignant statement within the confines of a few pages.

I usually let how much time I have to devote to reading determine what I’ll read. If I have an afternoon free, I’ll cozy up to a good book, and let myself be immersed in that world. If I need a quick break between writing sessions, I’ll grab a short story to renew my enthusiasm.

What kinds of reading do you enjoy? Do you let your reading materials enhance your writing, or do you fear it will influence it too much? Do you actively read for style and writing mechanics, or do you let the story carry you away?

Masks Guests Wear To Your Story’s Masquerade Ball

Mask Of The Masquerade

“The most important kind of freedom
is to be what you really are
You trade in your reality for a role
You give up your ability to feel…
and in exchange…
put on a mask.”
~ Jim Morrison

To be honest, when the Absolute Write Blog Chain regulars were talking topics for this month, I loved the Halloween concept. Ideas immediately leapt to mind. I instantly knew how I could relate All Hallow’s Eve to the craft of writing fiction. But, Halloween is not this month’s theme. Instead, I stare glumly at the word “Masquerade” and wonder, “What can I do with that?”

Say hello to my friend, Writer’s Block. There are many causes but the one that tangled me up is: lack of direction. To move forward we each need to see into the darkness ahead. We must unmask the handsome stranger who is our story (or blog post) because while he is hidden behind a mask he is distant and insubstantial. And THERE it is. The connection between Masquerades and writing.

No matter where you find the source of your idea waterfall, be it a dazzling Muse-moment, or a keyword prompt from your writing community (or client), a story begins like a masquerade ball. The invitations were sent, the catering prepared, the music sets the beat, and we wait for guests to arrive. Without the guests the party is a dismal flop. The guests bring the character and plot to every event.

As the first guests arrive, either in your first paragraph for a pantser, or, planner, as you begin to brainstorm and take notes, you meet their mysterious masked faces. Their trues selves are foreshadowed by the mask they wear. They are hidden beneath lies and half-truths. They exist as something other than who they really are.

We all wear masks, don’t we? We have a face for every situation. We wear the “Mother Lion”, or the “Capable Worker”, or the “Talented Writer” mask and we change our mask as frequently as we change our hats. The elements of our stories wear their masks too. These masks are an illusion. They hide the depth and substance of the person beneath.

Just as a person is never a single mask, owning many, our plot and characters are multi-layered. Life is not simple. It was never meant to be. Life is a song, a story, deep and complicated. The best stories reveal each facet slowly, with sultry looks and edge of the seat anticipation. Mask by mask we reveal the strange creature beneath.

As the Masquerade Ball of your story swells, the room fills with masked strangers. They are freer because of their anonymity. They act and speak with a closer connection to their true selves because they are not themselves. Our story is truer too, before it is fully revealed to us, which is perhaps why it can destroy our motivation if we plan too finitely, but, to uncover the core, to see the final and one true face of our story, we must peel back those layers and discover the intricate characters and plot beneath the surface.

How do you remove the masks of your story? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Check out other great posts from Absolute Write’s October “Masquerade” Blog Chain:

Masks by pareeerica

Image Credit: * Wearing The Mask * by pareerica
Image Credit: S2 Wraps Blends by pareeerica

Getting it Right: Research and Fact-Checking

Train at platformWhatever you’re writing about, it’s important to get all the details right. If you can’t write about what you know intimately, you must find things out and then check again. And if what you know is from your past, unless your setting will sit firmly in that era, it’s vital to get updated.

I recently read a novel by an American author. The story begins in New York. It follows the development of a heroine living on Staten Island and working in a Manhattan office. She moves to London, England.

My own knowledge of New York is based on a short break in Manhattan that included seven minutes in a helicopter, and an evening cruise that passed Staten Island. While I was reading, although I could get the feel of New York, as I remembered it, I didn’t know enough to make judgments about whether the description of a commute from Staten Island was accurate. I was just enjoying the read.

When the action moved to London, I was on more familiar ground. And I admired the way the author could write so well about places I know that I could picture them accurately as I read.

Until I hit one faux pas.

The heroine takes a train to the West Country. And even though I recognized how the track follows the River Exe to the sea at Dawlish, then goes through the tunnels and passes red cliffs on the right and the gray sea on the left, it wasn’t real to me.

Just because the train had left from Victoria Station.

Now I know you can’t get a train to the West Country from there. You can go from Paddington, or even Waterloo, but not from Victoria; not unless you intend to change onto the one from Waterloo at Clapham Junction. And why on earth would you do that if you were starting out from somewhere near Camden Town?

Just that one tiny error and the credibility of that author was lost for me. Because of it, I wasn’t sure whether to accept the rest of the book as gospel. This was probably unfair and illogical because so much of what I knew about was correct, and no doubt a lot of hard work went into getting it that way. Nevertheless it colored the way I read the rest of the book and how I felt about it.

Recently, I’ve read a couple of books with an Egyptian setting. One was a historical novel where the characters lives were wrapped up in the competition between France and England to decipher the language of the hieroglyphics. The other has a contemporary setting in Cairo with flashbacks to the time of the second world war. What struck me about these two books was that I got the same feel from the descriptions in them. Both authors were describing the same culture, which had obviously survived the centuries, and although they did it in different ways, they both felt authentic.

They had obviously done their homework. One of these authors, Rosie Thomas, has written novels based on her own experiences while mountaineering, trekking the Antarctic, and traveling the world. These facts that I’ve been told about her add authenticity to anything I read by her and she is one of my favorite contemporary novel writers.

That is one way to do your homework – by actually experiencing what you want to write about. But if you can’t have the experience yourself, there’s nothing better than getting the information from someone else who has.

Of course you don’t always have your own personal expert to hand, but there are now various websites that will help you find one. For academic subjects, the universities are often keen to help. After all, naming their experts in published articles brings them kudos and free PR. Or check out local societies and organizations. If you can’t find them on-line, go and talk to your librarian, who will always be able to find contact details that you can follow up.

However you get your information, it’s important to get it right. Whether you are writing a full length novel or a brief article, get the facts from the people who really know.

Where do you go for expert knowledge, references, and fact checking? Have you ever found a factual error in something you’ve read that altered the impact of the entire story?

Image Credit: 12-11-05 © René Mansi

Finding The Right Words for Tragic Topics

Death is solemn, it's serious...I may be overly sensitive to “hard topics”. I remember getting scolded by my high school newspaper advisor for using the headline “Death of a Writer”, when a bestselling author died. “You always use the person’s name, his age, and the verb ‘dies.’ That’s it. Don’t be clever. Someone died, it’s solemn and serious.”

Got that? As a timid tenth grader looking to absorb every bit of news writing knowledge I could, I sure did.

Most writers face a circumstance where they have to write a difficult piece. Whether it’s coverage of a national or international disaster, an obituary for a loved one, or a local tragedy for your hometown paper, these assignments are never easy. But they are only as hard as we decide they have to be.

I recently covered a fire that ravaged one of the elementary schools where my husband works, burning the school to the ground. This made me think about the editorial I wrote for a school music education publication shortly after 9-11. The obituaries I’ve written. My story featuring the Columbine High School band director after the shooting.

How did I handle all of these? I don’t think the stories were particularly challenging, but they required tact and grace and, perhaps even more so than other topics, the right words. What else should you keep in mind when you write about tragic topics?

Reach for the heart with storytelling and details. Facts are fine, but tragic stories give us rich opportunities to really reach our readers’ hearts. If you can find the perfect anecdote, share it. Don’t be afraid to get personal, as long as you do so with tact, grace and sensitivity.

Use humor tactfully. One anecdote from the weeks following September 11, 2001, stands out in my mind. I went to the local Starbucks with my editorial assistant a few days after the towers fell, and we got in line behind a woman who was complaining loudly that she wanted a refund. She was giving the barrista a hard time and — being regulars there — our hearts went out to him. Her problem? Her latte didn’t have enough foam. For those who know coffee, cappuccino has plentiful foam. A latte does not. The story struck me and my friend as so funny, I used it as the basis for my editorial, to segue into talking about what is really important in life.

Get the facts right. People are hypersensitive in times of tragedy (just think about latte lady). They will notice if you write a beautiful story but get a fact or two wrong. Additionally, rumors and misinformation fly during disasters. Check to make sure names are spelled correctly and take nothing for granted. Fact check everything.

Make sure you have something to say. After the hurricanes in Haiti, a lot of bloggers capitalized on the popularity of the keyword with articles that loosely tied into the hurricanes. If you have something significant and unique to say about a global or local tragedy, write about it. But don’t look for a tie-in just to capitalize on keyword searches. It’s the cyber-equivalent of going to a funeral to pick up girls.

South Bay Elementary School Fire. Photograph by T.J. AllcotUse the opportunity to do good. When I covered the fire at South Bay Elementary School for Long Island Exchange, I wanted to spotlight local businesses who were helping. I also wanted to do what I could myself by spreading the word but, as the business and technology columnist, I had to find the right angle. Long Island Exchange is a locally-targeted website, and the fire has been big news for more than a week here on Long Island. I wanted to make sure the story had relevance for my readers and I felt it was important to include a call to action. The school is collecting donations of books, school supplies and, most importantly, cash or gift cards, to help their re-building efforts and to continue teaching in the interim. That was the point I wanted to make.

All the “hard” stories I’ve written have had a specific purpose — a statement that aimed to change people’s perspectives or to help them in a similar situation. When I wrote about September 11, I wanted people to slow down and appreciate what they had (even if all they had was a latte with no foam). When I wrote about Columbine, I did so with the clear intention of showing music teachers their role in helping students get through difficult times. When I write obituaries, I aim to evoke good memories about the deceased.

Knowing why you’re covering a topic is the key. When your intentions are pure, your passion and sincerity shows. As the Bible notes, our words can move mountains. Use them –and choose them — with care.

I’ll leave you with two quotes that are good to remember when you tackle tough topics.

“Whatever words we utter
should be chosen with care
for people will hear them
and be influenced by them
for good or ill.” – Buddha

“Out of the abundance
of the heart
the mouth speaks.”
– Jesus Christ

South Bay Elementary School fire photograph by T.J. Allcot
Visiting Grave photograph by Marcus Lindström

Evaluate Your Business In 2010

With the new year upon us the fiscal year comes to a close. As a business owner, December and January is where all profits and losses are carefully examined in preparation for taxes in April. The hours of sorting receipts, tracking expenses and riffling though payments leaves misery to hold. If you are a wise one, you’ve kept great records and have a mature filing system for such items. Life sometimes happens and playing catch-up is necessary. Now is the time to begin that process.

While preparing a financial report of your freelancing business, consider this your time to evaluate what has worked, what has brought in successful funds and what has left you pinching pennies. As you track good months and bad, pull out your business plan and see where changes can be made, ensuring you have more good months in 2010. If you haven’t taken the time to write out a business plan, that time is now!

In examining the financial backbone of your business, take note of companies that brought in more financially and the type of work you performed. Pull up your old assignments. Recall the process of that work. Weigh the payment received with the time spent. Was your overall hourly wage in your targeted ballpark? Did you fall short by more than one or two dollars?

While surfing through those details, also pay attention to clients bringing in regular work.

Make a list of those clients and be sure to send a short note, thanking them for the opportunity to work with them, for them and beside them. This is a great opportunity to also bring your name to the front of a client’s mind. In the new year, businesses begin a strong drive to achieve success. Along side a new-found ambition, work loads are increased and freelancers have the exciting chance to make a jump towards their financial goals.

As you look through your clients and the genre’s of work performed, ask yourself if one niche market better serves you than others. Do you have clients that fell short of your hourly rate that you would like to continue working with? If so, ask for more pay per assignment. A pay increase as minuscule as three cents per word could make your financial goals.

Take your time, but act fast! 2009 is already behind us and 2010 offers you more opportunity as an entrepreneur. What are you going to do for yourself and your business in 2010?

How Do Freelance Writers Find Expert Sources?

Freelance Writers Find Expert SourcesMany writers today find everything they need on the Internet to put together an article. But expert sources add validity to your points and professionalism to your story. If I find myself stuck on beginning an article, it’s often because I don’t know enough about the topic, or I don’t have enough information in front of me to find that perfect lead or –if it’s a longer article — to outline the story from beginning to end.

How do professional freelance writers find expert sources? Several ways.

Find experts.

Social networking makes it easier than ever before to find expert sources. Peter Shankman’s popular “HARO” network connects reporters to PR people who can connect you with experts or even experts themselves. Tweeting a query on Twitter will also connect you with people, or try Facebook. Perhaps a friend of a friend is an expert in the area you need.

You can find experts on message boards and forums, but spend some time lurking on the forum, learn the rules of the land, and connect with the regulars before asking questions as people may be turned off if you just sign in announcing that you’re a writer seeking answers. How long does this take? There’s no rule. You should know when you feel comfortable enough to start approaching members with questions for your article. You might do this through private messaging or, if you feel comfortable enough, start a thread asking for comments.

Finally, you can often find experts by doing a Google search on your topic and looking over the more popular blogs. Contact experts who write blogs via e-mail if you can’t find a phone number. Again, it helps to become an active member of their community, by reading and commenting on their blog, but chances are good they will want the positive publicity a reporter can offer, so they might be more than happy to speak with you even if you are a new reader.

Collect experts.

Keep a file in your computer, listing the names of different expert sources. As this file grows, you may want to break it up into several categories—public officials, technical directors, teachers, historians, or whatever categories best suit your needs.

List the person’s name, when you first spoke to them, and regarding what, their area of expertise, and any personal details that will help jog your memory so you can connect with them on a personal level. You may want to add a JPG to their file, too, because some editors request head-shots of interview subjects.

Ping your sources.

As your writing experience grows, so will your file. Keep in touch with your expert sources on a regular basis, asking them what’s new in their industry. Soon, you’ll be the first one to hear about ground breaking news. “Pings” don’t take long. Simple notes on Twitter, Facebook or an e-mail once a month works. Some people prefer phone calls. Make a note in their file of each expert’s preferred contact method so you don’t intrude. You can also include special notes about the best times to reach them, like “always reachable by cell,” or “works from home Mondays and Wednesdays.”

HARO

Peter Shankman’s website, HelpAReporterOut.com lets you post queries that go out to thousands of PR reps and professionals. With a well-targeted question, you could get hundreds of sources all willing to help you. Or maybe just a handful with exactly the information you need. I’ve come to rely on this almost too frequently, as it’s making me lazy about using my other techniques!

Of course, these are just the basics. If you trust in synchronicity and the law of attraction, experts will come your way when you need them. These tips help that process along.

Writers: What’s the oddest way you ever found an expert source for an article?

Information Overwhelm

The Web is an effective tool for learning. In fact, recent studies show that 96% of internet users surf the Web, at least part of the time, with the intention of learning. 89% spend net time on research and 79% want to be kept informed. (According to the Ruder Finn Intent Index) Information is the primary resource this Super Highway provides but how effective is it really?

What information did you search for online today? What did you learn from blogs or articles? Where did you find these websites and what drew you to the websites you found today?

I have spent hours, today, trying to make my twitter use more effective. I’ve held a twitter account for several months but tend to tweet in bursts of sporadic activity. I tweet new blog posts and, when I remember, I’ll browse my timeline and respond or retweet. Effectively labeled links (those that have descriptive text – usually the post heading – included in the tweet) leap out at me and I click to read.

Today, I discovered Tweetdeck and it’s “mark as seen” feature. The “mark as seen” feature meant I could effectively save linking tweets that leap out at me, so I could read them later. And more links, and more links, and more links!!!

INFORMATION OVERWHELM!

There is an abundance of information online. Every moment the available content grows exponentially. In just a few hours of monitored twitter stream I discovered it is impossible to keep up with every piece of ‘interesting’ information. In my 290+ current followers alone there were days worth of reading time being passed back and forth, tweeted and retweeted.

As an eager sponge for information I had to face reality. It is impossible to read everything. The difficulty now is in trying to decide what I should let go and what I absolutely must read. Do I let the timeline return to wheeling past me and snag only those snippets I happen to capture in rare moments of twitter frenzy? Do I harvest all the great looking links and bookmark them to return to, someday? Do I subscribe to yet more blogs to fill my already overflowing RSS reader?

How do you deal with information overwhelm online? Have you discovered any effective ways to filter the interesting from the must know? How do you ensure you don’t while away all of your web hours reading fantastic content instead of writing your own?

Originally posted at A Book Thing. Republished with permission.

Seven Tips: Build A Writing Career Without An English Degree

Learn to write without an English degreeWhen I first started writing professionally in 2005, I didn’t know how to handle the fact that I don’t have an English degree. I was on my way to getting one but I dropped out of college due to a domestic violence situation.

There are some gigs where the editor, client, or publisher refuses to budge and insists on those qualifications and there’s not much you can do in that situation. But this is a rare instance so don’t rule out opportunities that indicate a preference for applicants with a degree or superior qualification. So, how do you build a writing career without an English degree? Here’s what I do, and you can too!

  1. Study. You don’t have to go to college to study. Sure, you’re at somewhat of a disadvantage since you don’t have an English professor with a red pen but if you’re dedicated to improving your grammar and English skills, studying can make all the difference. (You might even find someone who is willing to mentor you and share their wisdom.)
  2. Make an excellent first impression. You have one chance to knock the socks off the person reading your e-mail. Make it count. Double-check your spelling, let it sit overnight and proofread it again before hitting send. Be creative, enthusiastic, and put a fresh spin on everything you write that only you can bring.
  3. Build a Web presence. This can make a difference, too. If a potential client or editor clicks a link to your website and/or blog and they find something well-written with a fresh voice, it can motivate them to give you an opportunity to prove yourself with them. Include contact details on your site such as your email address so prospective clients and publishers can reach you. You can use WordPress or Blogger for a free platform to begin with. You can also register a domain name for a great price. I’ve noticed a huge increase in responses and opportunities since I polished my online presence with my website: micheletune.com.
  4. Be flexible. Learn to go with the flow. If you wanted to write a 2,000-word feature for the publication but the editor asks you to write a 200-word filler instead, just do it. You can’t always start out at the top. Most writers don’t. I’ve accepted that. And, I have found being flexible is something the people I work with love about me. They’ve said I’m creative, enthusiastic, and responsive to edits. And they know I can work with 200 words, 2,000 words, 20,000 words, or 200,000. I aim to please the person or company I’m writing for. It works for me. It will work for you, too.
  5. Follow-up. Not every writer does this and it’s crucial. Just because you didn’t receive a response doesn’t mean they didn’t like your work. In fact, they may have loved your work and had the best of intentions to get back to you. But life is busy and there are only so many hours in the day. They could have forgotten. It’s always worth it to follow-up. It can also let them know you’re serious about the opportunity.
  6. Sell Yourself. I know it’s hard (for some of us), but you really need to dig deep and find the courage to sell yourself. No, you might not have a big, fancy degree but nobody can be you. Make your writing services sound irresistible. The applicants with degrees might not have the personality and passion you have. A college degree can’t buy writing talent – or a personality. Remember the saying: “If you’ve got it, flaunt it?” Exactly!
  7. Market. Have you read that it’s not always the best writers who get the most work? That they are getting the work because they market themselves better than the more qualified – or talented – writer? I believe it’s true. Marketing myself used to be my weakest area, but I took the advice of seasoned writers and probloggers. I started marketing myself like crazy, telling everyone everywhere I go that I’m a freelance writer and blogger. I also hit the social media world by storm and have blazed a trail, showing friends and followers what my passions are and that I’m a real person. Marketing and networking is key and the secret is to: “Just be yourself!”

Some resources I have found useful:

It really helps to read. Envelop yourself with well-written books, blog posts, magazine articles. The more you read and the more you study and write, the better your work will be.

So, did I forget anything? Do you have an English degree? Do you think they are absolutely necessary for a writer to succeed? Do you have any resources to share that I left out? Have you tried to hide the fact that you don’t have a degree? I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

Photo Credit: Woodsy

Take Your Education To New Levels In 2008

Writers are constantly learning and improving on our craft and business skills. Continued growth as a human being and writer is vital if we want to advance our careers. This means we have to take an active roll in our future and step toward opportunities to learn and experience.

There are many ways to approach continued learning. What works for you may not work for others.

Groups and Forums
You’ll often be able to find information about local writer’s groups at your nearby library, family center, college or school. There are also some wonderful groups available online. Finding a group that suits your needs and personal interests can be challenging but all groups offer an opportunity to learn and grow.

There are also a number of writing forums available online. These bring together a collection of writers of various experiences who share their expertise and advice. One of my favorites is the Absolute Write Water cooler. Do you know of others?

Classes, Courses and Workshops
Every year there are a multitude of classes, courses and workshops scheduled to educate writers. Some writers may choose to attend a college, take a night course, or go online to follow a detailed curriculum.

Coaches, Mentors and Friends
For a more one-on-one approach to your continued learning you might prefer to find a writing coach or mentor. Design Your Writing Life and Working Writers Coach both offer online coaching that focuses on you and what you need to advance your career.

We can also learn a great deal from friends and colleagues. Maintain relationships and converse with others. Invite fellow writers out for coffee or talk to your loved ones about your goals and dreams. We learn a great deal by sharing perspectives with others.

Articles, Blogs and Books
Another approach to learning is to read, voraciously. Absorb words around you. Read books on style, technique and structure. Read memoirs of other writers. Read blogs about writing and the lives of writers. Read articles on querying, plotting, freelancing, fiction, etc. Read simply for the joy of reading. Read fiction and non-fiction. Read with an eye for detail and skill. Read.

Writing and Exercises
Finally, despite all of the above opportunities to learn we will not grow as writers without putting everything we come to understand into practice. We will not advance without writing. The core of a writer is the words they put on the page. Write articles, stories, novels, outlines, shopping lists, dialogue, description, action, fiction and non-fiction. Use writing exercises to stretch your skills. Write, every day.

What did you do in 2007 to aid your education and experience? What plans can you make now to advance your education in 2008? What would you like to learn more about in the coming year?