Online writing classes; proper use of possessive apostrophes
ONLINE COLUMN: Writing Q&A
Published: July 14, 2009
|Q: I'm in the military and am currently serving outside the United States. Is there a course of study available for an online, untraditional student that will challenge me to become a better writer?|
A: The Internet has certainly made it easier to connect with like-minded individuals and writers have found specialized nooks all over the World Wide Web. A quick search for online creative writing workshops will bring up hundreds of thousands of links. So many, in fact, that the possibilities can seem daunting. Like any venture where you're joining a community and shelling out hard-earned money, it's important to make sure you're getting exactly what you want.
Look for programs that are affiliated with reputable institutions. Many universities, for example, have continuing education or extension programs that include online creative writing workshops. If you know the workshop is backed by an institution with credibility, you can have confidence that the program is staffed and taught with that level of quality in mind.
Some of the best classes and workshops can be found through organizations that specialize in creative writing. However, identifying which organizations are reputable can be tricky. How do you know who's trustworthy if you're just starting to dip your toe into the larger literary community? Look at an organization's history. Has it been around long? Or did the Web site go up just last month? What sort of reputation does it seem to have among other writers? Have the classes received any accolades? Who's teaching them? What are their credentials? What is the delivery system for the class like? Knowing these details will help you better assess how well the workshop will meet your needs.
Let's look at Gotham Writers' Workshop—where I teach online—as an example. They host the most comprehensive battery of creative writing classes online and have been rated as "best of the Web" by Forbes. But you don't have to take their word for it. Gotham's Web site has a sample online class and teacher biographies so that you can judge for yourself before you commit to anything. There are also other resources—such as articles on the craft and their philosophy on teaching writing—that you can measure against your own thoughts on the process to see if it might be a good match. (You might also appreciate knowing that Gotham offers discounts to military personnel.)
They're not the only game in town, of course, but look for that level of transparency. Educate yourself as much as you can to be sure you're getting the kind of experience you want. When information isn't readily available, contact the organization to ask questions. Vague answers or dodged questions are an indication that what you expect and what you get may be very different—and result in disappointment. Don't hesitate to ask to talk with former students. If they've taught good classes, they'll have plenty of satisfied students happy to share their great experience.
Nothing beats direct feedback from writers who have "been there." Log on to writing forums and ask around about different programs. Hearing from several writers about their experiences can help you better make choices about what's right for you.
Also, make sure you're clear on the logistics of the online experience. Do you visit a specific site or is everything done through e-mail? Do you need a fast connection for the site or the ability to download particular kinds of documents? What is the duration of the class? Will you be able to work at your own pace? Will you be expected to show up at a certain time each week or can you access the material and work during your own free time? When you're dealing with different time zones and have access to only certain kinds of equipment, these questions become very important.
Q: Where do you put the apostrophe and "s" when you want to show two people own something? For example, is "Linda and Carl's home" or "Linda's and Carl's home" correct?
A: When ownership is shared, you only indicate possession once:
We were invited to Linda and Carl's home.
The home belongs to both Carl and Linda. The same would be true for ownership that is not material:
Ira and Joe's idea went over well at the meeting.
This changes when ownership is separate. (Sounds a bit like we're talking law, doesn't it? Hang in there with me; it'll make sense.) In this case, each noun should show possession:
Only Freddy's and Lisa's offices were infested with bugs.
In this sentence, there are two offices. One belongs to Freddy and one belongs to Lisa. Clearly, they need an exterminator.
In this case, apostrophe choices aren't linked with singularity or plurality. Two people can share ownership of many items and the apostrophe is still used only once. Here, Fran and Liz own all the horses together:
At the farm, we rode Fran and Liz's horses.
Here, Fran and Liz own different horses:
At the farm, we rode Fran's and Liz's horses.
On a related note, it's sometimes difficult to figure out where to place an apostrophe when indicating possession with tricky words, such as compound or hyphenated words. In these instances, indicate possession only at the end of the word:
She stole her mother-in-law's purse.
We were appalled at the Post Office's advertising campaign.
The apostrophe is a little mark, but a mighty one. Use it with knowledge and confidence.
Brandi Reissenweber teaches fiction writing and reading fiction at Gotham Writers' Workshop and authored the chapter on characterization in Gotham's Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide. Her work has been published in numerous journals, including Phoebe, North Dakota Quarterly and Rattapallax. She was a James C. McCreight Fiction Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and has taught fiction at New York University, University of Wisconsin and University of Chicago. Currently, she is a visiting professor at Illinois Wesleyan University and edits Letterpress, a free e-newsletter for fiction writers.
Send your questions on the craft of creative writing to email@example.com.