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Online writing courses, are they worth it?

Scratch beneath the surface of almost any profession and you’ll find opposing opinion. There will always be the purists who rose to power through the ‘proper’ channels, with the right education, and then there will be those that didn’t; the cowboys, the rebels, the Jobs of this world that did it their way because they didn’t want it any other way.

The writing community seems to be divided over what it takes to be a writer — talent, grit and determination vs plenty of learning and literature, and they are no more united on writing courses, let alone those online.

The trouble is for many amateur writers, who have not had any formal schooling in their word-craft, a diet of The Cat in the Hat and The Secret Babysitters Club feels like a poor education. We are hungry for more and, left with a sense of lack, aren’t sure how or where to satisfy the parts of us that crave coaching.

A writing course sounds like the perfect antidote. But is it?

As with so many other things the omnipresent internet has made much more information available to us in recent years, giving us choice over what we learn, where and when. There is a lot in the offering out there in terms of online writing courses, but before we consider which one to choose it’s worth pausing to ponder; are they worth it?

Do we need to learn new techniques or do we just need talent and time?

If you read our recent book reviews, in The Elements of Eloquence, Mark Forsyth showcases a compelling argument that writing talent can be acquired through finely tuned technique. Yet from Julie Cameron’s perspective in The Right to Write writing is away of life, fueled by curiosity and raw creativity.

The truth is reading and writing practice is commonly regarded as the best education when it comes to writing well and Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule has shown us that the more hours we dedicate to putting pen to paper the better we will become. Write until you get it right should be the mantra of all budding writers and is reflected in the popularity of sites like writeordie.com that demands you lay literary lyrics everyday.

What a writing course can give you is inspiration and community. They may expose you to talent and technique you might not have discovered on your own and tempt you out of your comfort zone. A writing course could provide you with a way to give and receive feedback, which is not only a way of connecting with people on a similar path, but an exceptional way to learn too. In other words, a course can give you focus if you lack discipline or don’t know where to begin.

If you can self-motivate and manage your own learning objectives effectively you may not need the external stimulation.

Writing courses in my opinion are matter of personal taste. Next month we’ll feature some recommendations so you can decide for yourself.