Image: Matthew Loffhagen
Whether you’re just starting out or already published, there’s always something you can do to improve your craft. Writing is made up of many components that have to be learned and practiced, and there are a lot of online courses available to help hone your talents.
In this article, I’ll be listing 10 of the best, and describing their areas of focus, strengths, and weaknesses to help you make a choice. In my choices, I’ve aimed to provide at least one course which will be useful to every kind of creative writer. From beginner to published author, there is something here that will help you no matter your existing skills and no matter your budget.
10. The Crafty Writer – The Crafty Writer’s Creative Writing Course
A basic, free course, The Crafty Writer offers exercises and advice but no feedback on individual work. For those who want a course that goes at their own pace and doesn’t cost a cent – this is ideal.
While I wouldn’t recommend this as the only course a writer should take – it lacks the community feedback which is so crucial to improvement – it’s a great way to get started on improving your writing. For those who feel a formal course isn’t for them, whether due to financial, time, or confidence constraints, The Crafty Writer offers a lot of great advice while frequently recommending other resources which provide participants with many avenues to follow once they finish the course.
You can find the course here.
9. The Writers Bureau – Comprehensive Creative Writing Course
The Writers Bureau is a trusted source of resources for authors, and they offer a variety of courses on a wide range of subjects including writing for competition, article writing, poetry, and memoirs.
Their Comprehensive Creative Writing Course is notable because of the confidence they place in it, offering a free fifteen day trial and a full refund guarantee based on participant satisfaction. The course is aimed both at improving your work and writing to a professional standard, including advice on editors and publishers, and how to manage a freelance creative writing career (such as how blogging can help sell your book).
You can find more information here.
8. The University of Toronto – Writing the Novel II
The Writing the Novel II course is great for writers looking to get from an outline, or beginning, of a novel to something more substantial. This intensive course requires eight hours of work a week, and involves active participation in the course’s Discussion Forum. By the end of the course, students will have completed two chapters of their novel-in-progress, with feedback from the class and instructor, as well as having engaged in lessons on writing craft. See more here.
Where the University of Toronto really stands out is in their impressive and diverse instructors. They have a plethora of successful writers ready and waiting to help students develop their own work, so with a little research you’ll be able to select the best instructor for you. You can learn more about their staff here.
The University of Toronto offers a wide range of classes, from memoirs to screenwriting. What’s more, they have specialist courses for those hoping to work freelance. You can find a full list of courses here.
7-4. The Gotham Writers
The Gotham Writers offer a variety of courses for all stages of a writer’s career. Small class sizes provide a manageable, friendly learning experience, and they place a high importance on understanding, using, and providing peer feedback.
You can find more information on all the courses discussed below here.
7. Jumpstart your writing
A class for those who genuinely don’t know where to start, this course stands out from the pack as one for real beginners. Topics include generating ideas, finding and honing your own voice, and learning to write without the constant drag of your inner critic.
Though the focus is firmly on learning how to write, rather than what to write, there are still writing exercises, and two graded projects. If you think you have a story in you, but have no idea how to get it out, this is the course for you. Find out more here.
6. Creative Writing 101
A step on from their Jumpstart class, this six week course covers inspiration and cultivation of technique. The ‘no pressure’ course aims to make you more aware of your strengths, weaknesses, and habits while providing a pool of peer support and tutor feedback.
During the course, students submit work to ‘The Booth’. Here classmates provide feedback on each piece of work, before receiving a tutor critique which takes into account the peer discussion that has taken place. This fairly common way of receiving feedback is all the experience you’ll need to join an online writers’ circle, and while it’s not a stated goal of the course this is something that will be valuable to writers looking to improve themselves online.
The course also acts as a springboard to more focused courses such as Article Writing, Memoir Writing, Personal Essay Writing, Travel Writing, Romance Writing, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing, and even Food Writing, all of which are offered by The Gotham Writers.
A short but high-quality course aimed at new writers, you can find out more here.
5. Fiction writing (level I course)
Gotham Writers offer a lot of great level I courses, aimed at improving specific skills and preparing writers for the more gruelling, and more rewarding, second level of courses. Fiction writing shines because of its flexibility, allowing writers to begin work on one to two short stories or a novel-length work.
Over the ten week workshop, writers are provided with writing exercises and the opportunity to present their work for tutor and class critique. The fundamentals of plot, structure, character development, point of view, and dialogue are explored, and the student should end the course genuinely prepared to start writing publishable short or long fiction. More information on the course can be found here.
4. Novel writing (level II course)
Building on Fiction I, this ten week class is geared towards helping students complete a novel-length work at publishable standard. There are multiple opportunities to present work for in-depth critique, alongside lessons that focus on crafting fiction and the novel form.
To apply you’ll need to have passed a level I course with the Gotham Writers, but it’s worth the effort. Novel writing can add a huge amount to your finished work, to the extent that it’s not uncommon for authors to take the course multiple times to get sustained, high-quality feedback on their work.
You can find out more here.
3-2. Writer’s Digest University
The Writer’s Digest University cover everything from blogging to mystery writing, and when they describe their selection of courses as a library, they’re not kidding. They have all the essentials for good workshops; peer and tutor review, a well-structured discussion forum, and expert lecturers, and use those resources to offer a wide and eclectic range that has something for every writer.
3. Revision and Self-Editing
Self-editing is an essential skill, and one which many courses claim to be able to teach. The difference is that while most courses tell you what to edit for, the Revision and Self-Editing course tells you how to do so. Focusing on ‘specific strategies for revising and polishing your work’ this course isn’t a list of the grammar and spelling you need to watch out for, but a one-stop place to learn how to be both a writer and an editor.
Over eight sessions, students work with expert instructors to gain the skills to edit their own writing, armed with checklists, proven methods, and valuable student and instructor feedback. For more information you can check here.
2. Agent One-on-One: First Ten Pages Boot Camp
The first ten pages of your book are what will sell it to agents and publishers, so in this course the Writer’s Digest University gives you one-to-one contact with an agent and editor for an intense workshop that will turn out the most saleable ten pages possible. The course only takes a weekend, and while claims that ‘any [agent] may ask for additional pages if the initial submission shows serious promise’ should be taken with a pinch of salt, this is certainly an unparalleled opportunity to make sure your work is as ready as possible for pitching to agents and publishers.
A fantastic way to get essential input that really can’t be found elsewhere, the boot camp is a must for any author suffering through repeated rejections or non-replies. The course is run on a sporadic basis, so you can sign up here to be alerted when the next one is planned, and to find out more about the agents involved.
1. LitReactor.com / Chuck Palahniuk – The Cult Workshop
The Cult Workshop is for confident writers who want to enhance their craft. It’s a sort of non-course but one that has more to offer than most established courses you can find.
Run by bestselling author Chuck Palahniuk, the course first came into existence in 2004 and included essays, homework assignments, regular Q&As with the author, and a vibrant forum where writers worked together to improve their work. This iteration of the course was widely praised, and resulted in the anthology Burnt Tongues in which Palahniuk lent his fame to a collection of the best stories that emerged from the course.
The course’s current form is, unfortunately, a little less involved however Palahniuk is still posting in-depth craft essays to LitReactor.com and the forum remains a dedicated place of self-improvement for writers. Their writer’s workshop, which you can join for a fee, is not run by Palahniuk but is impressive in its own right and allows you to submit work for feedback.
Palahniuk is a true master of the craft essay, and writes with the authority and creativity of someone whose work is praised worldwide. He covers material that other courses don’t, and approaches it from an angle that will get even the best writers thinking in new ways.
Some of these courses have competing subjects (I wouldn’t recommend taking more than one beginner course – or perhaps two if you still need help) and some don’t (every writer out there should check out The Cult Workshop.) The key to getting the most out of any creative writing course is recognizing what you do well and what you could do better, and then making choices based on that information. Keep doing that, day after day and year after year, and your work will never stop improving.
Do you have a course you personally recommend, or just some exercises that have been helpful to you in your own writing? Let me know in the comments.