Welcome to The Unschool for Writers

The Unschool is a space for those who are serious about their writing. And enjoy the process!

Subscribers’ words:

“The Unschool is filled with articles that are both helpful and thought-provoking, as are comments on them, and on submissions. The calendar idea, which I tweaked to fit my own need, is an exercise that continues to give me insights to my novel that spends too long untouched. Adding scenes, rearranging chronology, deleting scenes have breathed new life into my understanding of how to structure what I’m writing.” ~~~ A.W.

Unschool for Writers
NOVEL WRITING - Using Printed Calendar Pages to Work on Plot, Pacing, and Verisimilitude
Blank calendar pages are an indispensable piece in working on a novel. The sooner I begin to work with them, in addition to any form of planning, the better. Too often—especially as a writer who does not outline for the most part—I’ve run amok with my days and dates, and ended up with months that are three weeks in length, and back-to-back Saturdays…
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“The Unschool is a fresh water spring in the rugged landscape of the writing life. After each visit, I’m renewed, ready to keep going.”  ~~~L.N.

“Via the Unschool, I get ongoing mentoring from an author whose work I truly admire, but the format allows me to set my own pace and level of connection. I can ‘jump in’ and interact, or simply read and learn on my own. I love it!” ~~~ E.B.

“Stumbling upon The Unschool has done wonders for my inspiration as a writer. Since subscribing to this supportive community, I’ve written multiple poems, began exploring short fiction (something I’d never tried my hand at previously!), and started journaling again after almost a year away as a new mom.” ~~~ T.N.


I have been teaching since 1996, starting with what we used to call “night school,” and ending up in a multiple-genre MFA program (Master of Fine Arts).

But the teaching I’ve most enjoyed was several years of Monday afternoons spent with homelearners of all ages. From them, and from the experience of walking away from academia, I have come to value the path of the autodidact—learners who follow the urge to explore individual paths, who seek out their own material, and who pay attention to their own rhythm and timing for this. This last is key, and is what “unschooling” is about.

Part of the wonder (and challenge) of writing is that no matter how much you have learned, each project has many new challenges and points of growth. So while there are posts here—such as the “Foundational” series, for the beginning writer—many are for all writers on their own rhythm and time. Each month I add to the Index, with all posts categorized.

We hear and absorb what we need to, when and as we need it… Take your time with the posts. There are at least six new ones each month; you don’t need to read all. They’ll be here when you need them.

My hope is that The Unschool can play a solid role in your development as a writer, as well as in that other piece of being a writer: finding, creating, and sustaining Community. That is key, too. Online community is ideal for the writer. The are many opportunities for comments and questions here, and for paid subscribers, there are a number of active workshop groups (poetry; fiction and nonfiction 1200 words scenes; picturebooks).

On the first of every month, there’s a newsletter prompt with a thread posted to share and offer feedback, too.

My educational path has been a bit different: as a young person, I took some years of education by “correspondence,” then left school altogether at fifteen, went to trade school, and owned a small hair salon by age twenty-two. Several years later, I enrolled in college as a “mature” student. I published my first book—a children’s historical novel—at age thirty-two.

Over the past twenty-five years, I’ve published (with traditional publishers, with and without an agent) eleven books in many genres, from picturebooks to YA novels, and from adult fiction to memoir. My experiences have built my knowledge-base for teaching.

In my academic life, I advised over fifty creative writing theses for MFA students, including these: Fishtailing, by Wendy Phillips, a YA novel which, by some lovely fluke, I ended up editing for publication as a freelance-task (and which was awarded Canada’s highest honour, the Governor General’s Prize for fiction for young people), and Zorgamazoo, by Robert Paul Weston, a zany verse novel for young readers (which has won a number of awards, including the E.B. White Read-Aloud Award).

Why subscribe?

On the home page there is a sidebar under “Unschool Community” under which, you will see “SUBSCRIBE.” Or you may encounter a “subscribe now” prompt in any one of the posts.

It will look like this, below, and when you click on it…

…it will look like this:

You can choose from the options of $60/year or $6/month or “free.” Click on the one that is best for you and your budget. A “founding member” $100 level is also an option.

NOTE these amounts are in Canadian funds, so USA members are substantially less at this point in time/

Free subscribers

Will receive the first-of-the-month newsletter in their inbox on the first of the month. This usually has an exercise or prompt, and shortly after I post a comment thread on which you can post your response to the prompt, and we can share feedback. If you want—all is optional!

At least one other post per month is free.

Paid subscribers

Have access to all posts and archived material, to comments, feedback, and to workshops. (To sign up for the workshop space, click on your icon in the upper right-hand corner, click on “Manage subscription” then check the workshop space box under “Notifications” and there you go… )

The easiest way to access the workshop space is to click on the title of any email from The Unschool, which will take you to the site page. (Which is the quickest way to access your subscription to the newsletter without having to go to the Substack site.)

From there, click on the “Workshop Space” under the “Unschool” title at top of the page.

You might not want to post to a workshop immediately, but there is much to be learned from looking at others’ posts and the feedback. There might be a whole new-to-you genre/form to explore.

Thank you —

The Unschool exists because of those willing to support, and I am so grateful for each of you—thank you! Know that each paid subscriber makes a difference!


Don’t hesitate to let me know what is on your mind and what is of use to you as we write on…

Email: alison@alisonacheson.com

Wishing you Peace—


To find out more about the company that provides the tech for this newsletter, visit Substack.com.

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Playing and working with words: finding your own way to fiction and nonfiction, poetry, and writing for young people


I've published picturebooks to memoir for adults, and taught in the MFA program at UBC for 14 years. If that means anything. Canadian.