Great stories sell, but what makes a great story? Is it plot? Characterization? Writing? Often, it’s a combination of all three. But writing is an art and art is subjective.
Sometimes it can get discouraging. There may be a particular protagonist, subplot, or orbital character one reader really connects with and loves, while another reader may feel disconnected and put the book down.
This is true even with bestsellers.
You’ve likely picked a bestseller up and been so hooked that you read from the first to the last page all in one sitting. Other bestsellers you may have barely slogged through. That’s because stories are subjective.
But regardless of your personal taste when it comes to story, great writing sells.
So, what makes writing great?
Sometimes a great writer comes along simply because it’s innate. Some people just know how to string words together in a way that grabs your attention and keeps you turning pages. Some prose is written so well it could pass for poetry.
Great writing captures the minds and hearts of readers and keeps them wanting more, which in turn keeps the writer in business.
If you don’t feel like you’re one of the greats yet, don’t be discouraged. Great writing can be taught and if it can be taught, it can also be learned. But beware, some will give you bad advice so the journey does have pitfalls.
You may lead a busy life, as most of us do, and don’t feel like you have time to invest in returning to school to learn great writing.
Here’s some good news!
In an age of online, fast-paced living, online classes are a very effective way to continue your writing education in the form of websites and classes at your own pace.
Before we dive in please note: You could invest copious amounts of money in online classes, but if you don’t apply what you’re learning, if you don’t actually write, it won’t matter how much you know. You won’t improve unless you apply what you’re learning.
Writers write, after all. You can even get a grant to write. There’s really nothing more you need than skill, time, and patience to become the writer you want to be.
So if you’re ready to spend the time learning and apply your learning to your writing, let’s jump in!
Are Online Writing Classes Worth It?
Online classes ensure you learn more about your craft from wherever you are in the world, at whatever hour you have time to invest.
One of the pluses of online learning is it takes a lot less time than learning in person or through a book. You cut out your commute (no more traffic jams), and if you live in a state or country with all four seasons, you also cut out driving in bad weather.
Additionally, online classes usually allow you to go at your own pace. Many times classes release at a specific day and time and are available 24/7. Often, courses have pre-recorded classes that you can access from the moment you enroll in the course.
Of course, it’s advisable to take the classes chronologically because many classes build on each other, but that’s up to your discretion and where you’re at as a writer.
Enrolling in an online course allows you to live your life and also advance in your writing. If you have a busy week but have time on the weekend to invest in your writing, you can watch classes back to back. This will help you stay on track, but also allows you to fit your learning in at the times when you will get the most out of it. You can even listen to the audio on your commute to work.
If you want to continue your writing education but don’t want to miss out on learning with peers, you don’t need to worry. Online classes often include a bonus, online community where you can connect with other students. Online forums and private Facebook groups are great ways to connect with other writers at the same stage you are in.
Many times, writers from all different stages take a particular class: You may have one new writer wanting to learn the rules of writing, another writer who’s about to publish and wants to brush up on the rules before their final edit, and a successful author who realizes they can learn something from every writing class.
Interacting with other writers will help you grow in your own writing and these online communities are a great place to find beta readers who are essential to the book editing process.
Free Online Writing Classes
There are countless writing courses out there. A simple online search will provide you with multiple options. Choosing the best writing course for you and your specific goals is a big first step in the right direction.
Some courses focus on discovering why you want to write and how to stick it out from first page to last, while others focus on the mechanics of writing and how to use writing rules well. Some courses go deep into characterization, world-building, and plot.
It’s crucial to take the time to pinpoint where you’re at as a writer and what you want to focus on. Once you have a general idea, it’s helpful to browse multiple courses so you can see what’s out there, what will help you the most, and where to begin. Here is a list to help you get started:
“Writer and journalist Tom Geller helps you find your own reasons for writing, demonstrating how to use those reasons to drive the words you choose and the tone you take. Plus, he shares how to leverage your understanding of grammar and sentence structure to write nearly anything with maximum impact.”
“Shani Raja, a former Wall Street Journal editor, will teach you the four ingredients of good writing: simplicity, clarity, elegance and evocativeness. After discovering how to add those ingredients skilfully, your writing will almost certainly begin to stand out from that of others in your field, profession or industry.”
“This Specialization covers elements of three major creative writing genres: short story, narrative essay, and memoir. You will master the techniques that good writers use to compose a bracing story, populated with memorable characters in an interesting setting, written in a fresh descriptive style.”
Get started with your own fiction writing, focusing on the central skill of creating characters. You’ll consider the rituals of writing and keeping a journal; learn how to develop your ideas; reflect on your own writing and editing; hear writers talk about their approach to research; and start turning events into plot.
Paid Online Writing Classes
Free courses are a great launching pad, and many offer helpful content to help get you started. If you’re looking to invest in learning more in-depth about writing, writing rules, world-building, and the writing process itself, a paid online writing course will likely be a helpful next step.
Here is a list of paid online writing classes from reputable sources:
“Our flagship fiction program was developed by a bestselling author with years of experience in both self-publishing and the traditional industry he’s stepped away from, in order to help educate and guide you on the craft of writing while also giving you the tools and skills necessary to build a launch team, publish your book successfully, and connect with other writers with our exclusive Mastermind Community.”
“Your Novel Blueprint provides a proven guide to writing the best novel you can imagine—all the way from the idea stage to the printed page. Jerry teaches you everything he’s learned from writing 130+ novels (with sales over 60 million copies).”
“Workshops are categorized by genre. Get started building your library today!”
“MasterClass offers online classes created for students of all skill levels. Our instructors are the best in the world.”
Choosing Which Online Writing Class is for You
As you browse through these classes and the different categories, take notes of what you think will be most helpful, and try not to get overwhelmed. Just as college students often feel syllabus shock when enrolling in a new class, you may feel overwhelmed at the amount of learning you have to do.
The good news is, the more you know, the more you realize there is to know.
After you feel comfortable with your course, have a feel for the teaching style, and are able to complete assignments, you may want to add another course.
Different courses teach different aspects of writing and focus on some parts more than others. Just as it’s important to research a myriad of articles when writing on a particular topic, rather than just one or two, it’s helpful to immerse yourself in training under as many credible teachers as possible.
One author may teach in-depth characterization (point-of-view, tense, person, etc.), while another may focus on how to write your first novel, start to finish. Each is equally important. If you know how to maintain one point-of-view per scene and effectively communicate your story through this point-of-view, but you can’t finish your manuscript, you won’t get far.
In the same way, if you can write from start to finish but head-hop from one character’s point-of-view to another paragraph by paragraph, you’re unlikely to build a solid readership.
Choose your course carefully, and once you feel like you’re well on the road to mastering its material, consider selecting a second option.
The First Step On the Journey…
Deciding to enroll in an online writing class and apply what you learn to your writing is a huge first step. You’re on your way!
But it’s important to realize writing is a journey. Even the best writers will tell you they are still learning and growing and each book is a new project with new obstacles to overcome.
Writing is an art. Writing is subjective. But following writing rules (and knowing enough to know when and how to break them) will help take your writing from good to great.
You can’t write a book every single reader will love. But you can write a book that has such great writing, strong characterization, fascinating plot points and authentic voice, that if a reader puts it down it’s not because of you. They just didn’t personally connect with it at the level other readers will.
As you educate yourself on writing, take notes, practice what you learn, and don’t get too hung up on applying everything at once.
Your writing will improve. Your readers will likely notice. And you’ll know you put in the time and effort to make your writing the best it can be.
Sarah Rexford is a Content Specialist and writer. She helps companies around the nation connect with their audiences through branding and copywriting. A communicator at heart, Sarah speaks on personal branding, mentors creatives, and through her website (itssarahrexford.com), shares behind-the-scenes tips on the publishing industry, including interviews with successful creatives. Sarah is represented by the C.Y.L.E Young Agency.
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