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 amateurs, I would advise that you double check any control problems (like grammar and the like) that they give you advice on.
This article is originally from Every Writer
These five tips comes from James Tate Hill, the author of Academy Gothic, winner of the Nilsen Prize for a First Novel. His stories and essays have appeared in Literary Hub, Story Quarterly, and The Texas Review, among others. Fiction Editor for the literary journal Monkeybicycle, he lives in North Carolina with his wife, Lori. Find out more at jamestatehill.com or follow him on Twitter @jamestatehill.
Congratulations on publishing your first book! Maybe it’s actually the second or third book you’ve written, or your tenth, but at long last a publisher has recognized the genius even you had begun to question. Go on and open that bottle of wine that has aged so gracefully, if a little dustily, for the past decade. The elliptical machine can wait until tomorrow. You’ve worked hard for this moment, but more work lies in front of you. Until you reach that point in your career when your name on the book cover dwarfs the title, the book you’ve written needs help finding its way into readers’ hands. How much your publisher helps to spread the word will depend on many factors, not least of which is their publicity budget, but there are many ways you can maximize your book’s visibility for minimal costs—or even for free.
In 2014, I learned my first novel won a book contest—the Nilsen Prize for a First Novel—and would be published the following year by a university press. Supportive as my publisher would be, I had enough friends with published books to know promotion largely rested in my hands. I reached out to a few freelance publicists based in New York to discuss what kind of services they provided. Publicists have long-standing relationships with editors, bloggers, book reviewers, and journalists that are often key to generating buzz for new books. Their job is also to develop a creative strategy for helping a book reach the readers most likely to be interested. Unfortunately, after learning a publicist’s rates for a full campaign exceeded what I made in a semester teaching composition, I realized I would be serving as my own publicist. The following are some of the lessons I learned during my year of self-promotion:
1. The Internet is your friend. You don’t need me to tell you the Internet is your best tool for reaching the most people in the least amount of time. A personal website is necessary as a home base for potential readers to learn more about you and your book. Take inventory of your pre-existing fans, before your book publishes. Think you don’t have any fans because this is your first book? Think again. Friends, family, co-workers, former classmates, and anyone in the universe who likes you enough to either buy your book, recommend it to someone, attend one of your events, or simply share details about what you’ve written is a charter member of any debut author’s fan club. And the best way to mobilize your fan club is through social media. The more closely your Twitter, Facebook, and/or Instagram persona resembles your actual personality, the less your book-related posts will seem like annoying self-promotion than an extension of good old likeable you.
2. Create connections and content. Once you establish a website and a growing social media presence, you need to generate some content about your book. Keep in mind that any original writing you post on your website will largely reach the people already aware of your book. The goal is to reach book-reading strangers, and the way to do that is by establishing a presence on other people’s websites—the more popular the better. There is no shortage of blogs, literary journals, and all manner of genre-specific forums for every kind of book and topic. Research which sites are open to guest posts or essays relevant to your book’s subject matter or your personal experiences. For Academy Gothic, an academic satire and murder mystery narrated by a visually impaired college instructor, I found myself writing essays and posts about my first failure as a novelist, my experiences in higher education, how I transitioned from literary fiction to the mystery genre, and my unique perspective as a visually impaired reader and writer. As with social media, the less your writing resembles promotion, the greater likelihood people will read, enjoy, and share with their own friends.
3. Query for editorial reviews. One realm where a publicist can make the most difference is editorial reviews. Pre-publication outlets like Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus will review some small press titles, and I was exceedingly fortunate to receive positive notices in PW, as well as Booklist. Editors of many periodicals, however, both online and print, often rely on recommendations from publicists they trust when deciding which books deserve attention. With sometimes thousands of books crossing their desks each month, it makes sense that they would listen to voices who have steered them in the right direction before. Those of us serving as our own publicists are at a disadvantage, but any research you can do to personalize your queries to editors and potential reviewers will greatly increase your chances of standing out. By reaching out personally to newspapers in my hometown and the city where I now live, I was lucky to receive great reviews in both these papers, as well as online journals more accustomed to touting small press and debut authors.
4. Schedule book tours—smartly. Publicists can also be helpful in setting up your book tour, but most bookstores are receptive to hosting a reading or signing even if you don’t have a publicist. Unless you’re a member of the gigantic-advance club, your book tour will either be small or self-financed, so be selective with your events. The rule of thumb for most debut authors—and many publishing veterans as well—is not to plan events in towns where you can’t fill some chairs with people you know. My best-attended readings were on college campuses and in towns where I’ve lived, but even the events with more empty chairs than bodies can still be worthwhile. Some bookstores will stock your book for a time before or after the event, and having your name and book title listed among upcoming and past events in the store on their website means additional publicity. Plus, even if your reading only leads to two books sold, you never know how much word of mouth two mouths can generate.
5. Use effective advertising. Your travel budget and vacation days might dictate the scope of your book tour, and the same can be said of advertising. I bought only one ad for my novel, and while I have no way of knowing if it led directly or indirectly to any sales, I’ve heard and read anecdotes from fellow authors that traditional advertisements, as well as paid promotions on social media, don’t do much to move the needle. Flyers are less expensive if you want to advertise bookstore or library events. Another effective use of your limited budget is book giveaways on sites like Goodreads or Amazon, which can at least get eyes on your book and raise awareness of its existence.
Book publicists are professional book advocates with years of wisdom and experience. You are a debut author with no experience promoting your book. On the bright side, as any publicist will acknowledge, you are your own best advocate for the book you’ve written. There are as many types of readers as there are types of books, and there is no one-size-fits-all way to reach any audience. That said, the one truism of book publicity is that someone who knows your book exists is far likelier to read it than someone who doesn’t. What you might lack in the know-how of a paid publicist or the budget of a big publishing house you can help to make up for with time and energy. This is all part of the writing process, and these many hours spent promoting your book can be as crucial as the hours spent revising that final chapter.
Originally posted on Writer’s Digest