To the point:
Will an online writing course hurt you? No. Most of the time they are taught by experienced professionals. Will an online writing course help your writing? In most cases, it will. Is it better than a face to face writing course taught by a professional? No. It is better than an amateur writers group? Yes.
All about the point:
I’m writing this article from 3 standpoints. First as a writer who has needed help in writing, taken workshops at a university, online courses, and workshops in non-formal settings like writers groups. Second as an editor who has taken submissions of fiction and poetry for various magazines and online publications for the last 14 years, and as an educator who teaches writing.
There are really two problems writers will have in their writing. The first is flow, and the second is control. These are the two problems that are always being addressed as a teacher and a writer. The questions here are: How you get the words out, and when it comes out how well is it controlled? If you write enough for an assignment or “how much the story demands” your control is okay. If you have a good handle on grammar and diction, you’ve got your control under, well, control.
University writing courses
What does a university writing course look like? Well, it looks like any other writer’s workshop, for the most part. Everyone hands in a piece of writing, everyone comments on the writing, and a moderator (Prof) looks after what people are saying. He or she also gives assignments that might help the group’s writing. For instance, “Read this story on page 72. It’s flash fiction. We are going to look at why the author picked certain words in the story to cause this reaction in the reader” so on and so forth. That’s all it is.
Online writing courses
You are given assignments. You hand in writing. People critique it. It is essentially the same as an in-person workshop course at a university. What’s missing? Face to face interaction. Do you need it? Well that depends.
Will taking an online writing course hurt your writing?
NO! You’re not going to hurt your writing. A lot of people think if you get bad advice, it will ruin your writing. Nonsense. As a writer you already have writing in you. You might write poetry, fiction, novels, whatever, but you also have a built in: “what I like what I don’t like detector.” If a literary writer tells you, “You can’t have a character say that. It sounds fake!” You might have read that same line in a dozen scifi novels (you’re a scifi writer in this scenario), and you’ll take the advice, think about it, and probably throw it out. Nothing is going to hurt your writing. If you really want to be safe with your writing, read a lot. That will shape what you write much more than what anyone tells you.
In most cases, writing genre or literary translates just fine where advice is concerned. For instance, action defines character. This is a piece of advice I got 15 years ago. It stuck with me, and I believe it to be very true. What a character does will define him or her better than all the thoughts that come out on the page. If he is not a killer, but he goes around killing people, the action will define him as a killer. This piece of advice really translates to just about any genre you write in.
Your writing will be fine, you can take a course, you’re not going to damage your writing.
Do I think you should take an online writing course?
Should you take an online writing course? That depends on what problems you have in your writing, and what you want to accomplish. If you have a control problem, grammar, making decisions for your word choice, getting kinks out, stuff like that then yes, an online writing course can help you.
If the Prof makes changes and sends those changes back saying, “When you write ‘should have went’ make sure it is in a dialect and not in your narration. The correct usage is ‘Should have gone,’” it will help you. If you’ve never taken a writing course, and you’ve only had the traditional high school courses, you most-likely have some dialect or some gap in your grammar that needs be dealt with. Can you write in a dialect and be successful? Certainly. But you need to make sure that you know what you are doing when you are doing it. If you don’t, it will look like a grammatical error and an editor will throw it out!
The number 1 reason I have tossed submissions in all my time as an editor is grammar errors. They will kill a piece in the eyes of your editor. If you don’t know they are there, you can’t fix them. Even the best of the best have editors that help them with this.
If you have a flow problem in your writing that means, usually, you have writers block, or you’ve run into an inspirational wall. Will an online writing course help? It might, and it might not. Assignments might be given to you, that you are forced to write, that you find knocks the flow problem free, and the next thing you know you are writing like crazy. This has happened to me a couple times. The cure for writers block, many times is more writing, on subjects you didn’t think about before.
If your problem is in inspiration, a writing course will be hit and miss. You might find that someone in the course writes something that really inspires you to write This happens to me all the time in my writers group, but it is not a sure thing. It might be better for you to go on a walk, see some trees, go to a lake or somewhere you are inspired, and that might help.
So to answer the question: Should you take an online writing course?
Should you take an online writing course? I would say in most cases it will be beneficial. It can help. It might not solve all your problems, but I believe over all it will make you a better writer. Is it better than taking a face to face writing course? Most of the time no. If you have the time to physically go to a room, with some people and take a course with a professional, do it.
One warning: Make sure if you are taking a COURSE for help, to improve your writing that the person teaching it is a professional with experience in writing. Their experience in writing will help them understand where you are coming from. If you are in a writers group, and the people are armatures, I would advise that you double check any control problems (like grammar and the like) that they give you advice on.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated and moved from another page on our site. It is the same content. The old page was from our old html pages, this is our new blog. Hope it’s helpful.
Derek Mcdoogle says
You mentioned that a university writing course looks like any other writer’s workshop, for the most part. Do most university writing courses also go over the basics of writing? My son is trying to decide what classes he should take at college. Finding a writing class to take could be beneficial for his future.
Carole Mertz says
This is a useful article. Thanks for posting it. I would like to see the word “armature” corrected to amateur. (Those spell checkers! They don’t know anything>)