Should You Sign Up for a Writing Class?

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About every six months or so, I check out the writing classes being offered at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland.  While I don’t always sign up, I almost always find one that addresses my writing needs at the moment.

Should You Sign Up for a Writing Class_

For example, when I decided to write a novel three years ago, I realized I never actually took a creative writing class.  So I signed up for a short story course.

Then, when I finished a draft, I took a novel-writing class, where I was able to get detailed feedback from twelve people.

Eventually I started pitching agents and consequently obsessing over my first chapters and low and behold! There was a one-day course on mastering “the hook” waiting for me.

Five Reasons Why You Should or Should NOT Take a Writing Class

So, should you sign up for a writing class?  Here are three reasons you should (and two reasons you should NOT).

1. Writing Classes Introduce You to Other Writers in Your Area

The first time I ever took a writing class was a crazy experience.  I had just broken up with my boyfriend and was basically traumatized.  Writing a novel seemed like something I HAD to do, and I couldn’t think of anyone in my life who could understand that particular desire.

Imagine my surprise when, in my short story course, I met a group of people just like me!  They were teachers, consultants, lawyers, recent grads (i.e., not professional fiction writers)—but they all had stories to tell.  They just got it.

And, more importantly, they were local.  After the class ended, we formed a writing group and continued meeting for a while.

I have said this before and will probably say it again—the value of finding a community of other writers cannot be overstated.  Of course, The Write Practice is a writing community, but it is nice to meet fellow writers in your area.   Writing classes are great for that.

2. Writing Classes Force You to Write

I have found four- to six-week courses great for getting back into the groove of writing after a slump.  This is primarily  because writing classes give you homework.  They literally force you to write because at the very least you want to get your money’s worth.

3. Writing Classes (Often) Allow You to Critique Others' Work

Often you are asked to provide comments on other people’s work in writing classes, which is a really useful exercise.

First, it can boost your confidence because, while providing comments, you’ll probably discover you know more about writing than you thought.

Second, you learn from actively reading someone’s work.  You identify and articulate things they have done well (and not so well).  I believe this practice makes you consider these issues in your own work.

But… Why You Should NOT Take a Writing Class

As helpful as they can be, writing classes aren't for everyone. Here are two reasons to avoid them:

1. Writing Classes Can Be Expensive

Most of the multi-week courses I signed up for were at least a couple of hundred dollars, which is why I usually don’t attend more than one a year.

Personally, I only think writing classes are worth it if you are going to workshop (i.e., discuss and receive feedback on) something you have written.  The course I took on “mastering the hook,” for example, was fine, but because it was only one day, I didn’t get a chance to workshop anything.  I wouldn’t recommend it to others because I think I could have found the same information online for free.

2. Not All Classes are Created Equal

In my first short story class, everyone just vibed really well.  I don’t know if it was because we were all in similar places in our writing journeys or if the teacher did a deft job guiding us, but we all just clicked.

While I met great people in my novel class as well, the vibe wasn’t quite the same.  That said, the instructor in that course gave much more written feedback than my short-story teacher, which I appreciated.

Basically, different courses have different benefits and drawbacks.

Have you taken a writing classes? Are there writing classes available in your area? Let me know in the comments.

PRACTICE

Take fifteen minutes to write about your experience (a) having your work workshopped or edited or (b) taking a writing class.  Share in the comments section!

Monica is a lawyer trying to knock out her first novel. She lives in D.C. but is still a New Yorker. You can follow her on her blog or on Twitter (@monicamclark).

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12 Comments

  1. Kenneth M. Harris

    I have taken writing classes within the last year. I don’t know If you would this a writing class, but there were about 15 people that had completed their novel. I was one of them and did read chapters and received a lot of feedback. The writing practice has worked very, very well for me. I have never been writing as much as I am now. Maybe, I should not say this, but I feel that I’m learning so much from the prompts, etc. I feel like I am always learning since I have found the writing practice. I have already submitted my short story and received great, great feedback. I have corrected the short story in the workshop. I am ready to submit another one that I had completed this past Friday, September 18th. Right now, I am very satisfied with the writing practice. Thanks, KEN

    Reply
  2. Ann Stanley

    I have taken two in-person writing classes, Story Cartel online, free online classes, plus several workshops at two different conferences. One of my local writing classes turned into a writing group which has met monthly for probably five years now, and Story Cartel turned into two online groups (or more, I lose count), one of which is a fabulous critique group. So in terms of connecting with other writers, course have been great.
    I agree that it’s important to have a chance to workshop your material. It’s the best way to learn, even though it can be frightening to read out loud and be critiqued in front of other writers. Writing is an activity which can only be learned by doing and getting feedback, then doing it some more.

    Reply
  3. cj mckinney

    I taught writing classes for many years – fiction, memoir and creative nonfiction. I had students ranging in age from 14 to 94. Some of them were hungry to share their visions with the world, eager to learn about all aspects of the writing process. Others were in love with the notion of writing itself, drunk on words and the thrill of seeing their ideas on the page. Still others were there because it beat sitting home on a weekday evening. I think it’s important to add to the reasons to take (or not take) a writing class the question of what you genuinely want to achieve. If you are so new to the process that you are protective of your writing self and your words, a class focused on critiquing and publication will not be for you – yet. If you are hoping to submit work to a publication, you will not want to be in a class of people who are still working on figuring out what writing means to them. The course description may not tell you which is which. It’s important to stay focused on what you see for your writing and yourself.

    By the way, my 14 year old student – and the 94 year old – both published their first short stories after taking my short story class. They knew what they were looking for and what they needed a writing class to do for them.

    Reply
    • ebersocats8

      Good point. I think you need to be in a group of like minded writers, who are all being constructive and helping you write the best work you possibly can – whether it’s for your personal satisfaction (Emily Dickinson) or to get published.
      Deborah

      Reply
  4. Zayed

    This is probably the first time I’ve written a comment on a write practice post, despite having followed them for about 6 months by now. I’m a highschool student (15 years old,sophomore) and I’m trying to write a book. I have done research on how to publish it, and what to and not to expect. I have actually been working on the story for more Han a year now, and yet I have only finished 2 chapters. The reason for that being my indecision on the stories plot. Before I wrote the two chapters, I had written 3 others for a story that was almost completely different. After re-reading the first three chapters, I wanted to change the story, the changes were so obtuse I would have to rewrite everything. Throughout his whole almost-two-year process, my friends helped me create characters, setting, and even parts of the plot. Most useful of them all is my closest friend (who’s name I’ll keep anonymous), who has been actively editing the story as I write it. He made me realize that the best place to learn writing isn’t just in a class, but instead it’s best learn from a community.
    A group of people reading and criticizing writing can be just as good as taking one of those classes.

    Of course that may just be my loony highschool-brained self talking.

    Reply
    • EmFairley

      Congratulations for keeping at it! I also teamed up with a good friend of mine, after reading a draft manuscript that he had written. It gave me the idea to write something in the same genre and having worked together on other projects, we decided to take the plunge and write the new novel together. We went headlong into it and quite quickly had 13 chapters written and edited, that were great. Other work commitments then meant that we left the draft for almost a year before returning to it. After looking at it again we’ve decided to radically change the plot, adding in a lot more depth, while keeping a lot of the original draft. The new framework means that the original 2 chapters now stretch, perhaps unbelievably, to at least eight in the rework. We’ve just signed off on the new Chapter Three and are both really enjoying writing together and the new direction the novel is taking!

      Reply
  5. Marilynn Byerly

    As someone mentioned, there are some great writing courses online, and you can find one that specializes in your genre or needs at the time. Most are reasonably priced. And you can attend in your jammies.

    Writing is one of those crafts where you never stop learning, and, even a course on things you know make you rethink what you do know and reexamine your work process. Critiquing does the same thing.

    Zayed, I figured out this method for plotting novels over thirty years ago, and it’s never failed me.

    http://www.marilynnbyerly.com/page9a.html

    I’m also open to writing questions via my website and my blog.

    http://mbyerly.blogspot.com

    Reply
  6. Mahrie G Reid

    Sometimes I am tempted to take (yet another) writing class even though I have numerous ones behind me, a great writing group, a feed-back team and have read over 200″how to writer” books plus taught many writing workshops and classes myself. It is usually when I could be writing and am looking for a way to procrastinate.

    Reply
  7. LaCresha Lawson

    It is a good idea, but, I am a homemaker and don’t have the money. The workshop sounds even better because I believe they are usually free and it can be one day as you stated. Thank you for the suggestion. And, good luck to all of my fellow writers!

    Reply
  8. ebersocats8

    I have joined a couple of writing groups, and find them
    extremely beneficial. I joined my first one about 7 years ago. I had people give me feedback that was helpful. Of course, some of the criticism was based on individual likes and dislikes. But most of the feedback gave me some ideas of things I needed to improve. The groups have changed over the years, and somehow the feedback has been even more helpful lately. Maybe I’ve grown more or maybe the change in moderators and participants have gotten better.
    Deborah

    Reply
  9. Noor Ali

    I have never taken a writing class however, I had had of speaking and conversation classes. Now, i want to join any online writing club which can help me to improve my writing skills.

    Reply
  10. EmFairley

    I have taken a writing class before, but didn’t get anything at all from it. So I’m hesitant to do another. That said, being part of a community, or even just sharing your work with a friend, is so beneficial. In my case, I teamed up with a good friend of mine, after reading a draft manuscript that he had written. It gave me the idea to write something in the same genre and having worked together on other projects, we decided to take the plunge and write the new novel together. We went headlong into it and quite quickly had 13 chapters written and edited, that were great in and of themselves. Other work commitments then meant that we left the draft for almost a year before returning to it. After looking at it again we’ve decided to radically change the plot, adding in a lot more depth, while keeping a lot of the original draft. The new framework means that the original 2 chapters now stretch, perhaps unbelievably, to at least eight in the rework. We’ve just signed off on the new Chapter Three and are both really enjoying writing together and the new direction the novel is taking!

    Reply

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