April 26, 2013

Take an Online Writing Class - Bonnie Way

Writer's conferences and writing courses are both great ways to improve your skills as a writer—if you are able to make it to the venue offering them.  Online creative writing courses are opening up new opportunities for writers who live in smaller towns or aren't able to travel to big writer's conferences.  When I lived in northern Alberta, I took two online courses (from two different universities) as a way to learn, encourage myself to write, and connect with other writers.  Here's what I learned from that experience.

Choosing an Online Creative Writing Course

Look for a course that is relevant to what you need to learn.  If you are just starting out, choose one or two topics to focus on and take a course or two in that area.  When that concept is mastered, look for more courses.

Look for a course that seems manageable to you.  Consider how much time you can commit to this course at this time and whether you will be able to meet the deadlines (if there are any).  Some courses are offered as work-at-your-own pace; there is no instructor, no deadline, no peer feedback.  Consider working through it with another writer so you can set deadlines for each other; or, if you are self-disciplined enough to work through the course and do all the suggested exercises on your own, go for it.

Peer Feedback is Valuable in Online Writing Courses
Writing is a lonely business and writers are often looking for others who understand the business.  An online writing course can be a great way to find writing buddies and to get critiques.  Pam Mytroen, a freelance writer and concert reviewer, says that “constructive criticism by other writers taking the same course was the very best component of the course. ... It's one thing to show your assignment to your family or friends to read but it's another thing to show it to an unbiased student who you're only dealing with over the internet. You get really honest criticism and encouragement.”

Having a fresh, unbiased eye look at a writer’s work is always valuable.  Other writers in an online course can do this without fear of hurting your feelings.  For Pam, that was “worth every single penny right there.”  She adds, “I discovered exactly what needed work. Their insights were surprising. I would have never gotten this help from people close to me.”

More Pros of Online Writing Classes
Online offers an atmosphere of immediacy.  Rather than waiting weeks for mail to travel in a traditional correspondence course, writers can receive feedback from their peers and instructors within hours or days.  Those enrolled in online courses guided by an instructor benefit from the wealth of the instructor’s experience.  Pam found her instructor “practical and discerning and encouraging.”  The instructor can also set deadlines which can help motivate the writer; as Pam says, “It was like a kick-start to writing. After that course I wrote for an entire year.”

Disadvantages of Online Creative Writing Courses
Many of the disadvantages are similar to the advantages.  Courses that offer instructors cost more than courses that do not; weigh your need for feedback and deadlines with the funds that you have to spend on your learning.

Peer feedback also depends upon the other writers in the group.  As Pam explains, what you gain from an online writing class “depends upon who your fellow students are and how much they're willing to give you.”  Pam had several good experiences with fellow writers in online courses, but then, “in one course I took, one of the students dropped out early and that only left two others to critique me. Of those two, one was defensive about everything I tried to help her with and I discovered in return that when she critiqued my work, it was poorly done.”  I had a similar experience in one of my courses; two students never offered critiques, so instead of getting feedback from four people, I only got two.

Writers who pay for an online writing course, expecting to get great critiques from their fellow students, may be greatly disappointed.  Pam felt that “when you pay several hundred bucks, there should be a more fail-safe system of getting the critiques you need.”  Before starting an online writing class, consider asking the instructor or the institution about critiquing guidelines for participants, what will happen if a participant drops out, and what the policy is if one student fails to participate in the critique process.


  1. Bonnie,

    Great posting on the pros and cons of online writing courses.

  2. Thanks for sharing great information.

  3. On-line courses are starting to become very popular, especially recently. Bonnie, that's a great idea, to take one on Creative Writing.

    A friend of mine has been taking a couple of writing courses on-line for free through Coursera. These are courses crafted by university instructors and, though they don't offer credits, apparently they are well-crafted and there are lots of opportunities to receive feedback from other students.

  4. The peer feedback is probably the best thing about online courses. (To echo what Pam said) However, as also noted, sometimes the peers in the class aren't the ideal crit partners. This was a very through look at the pros and cons. Thanks Bonnie.

  5. I want to publish as a online writer.
    but don't know how is it possible.

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