If you want to study creative writing, the variety and number of courses can be confusing. It’s important to find the type of course or group that suits you.
Creative writing may be a solitary act but no matter how much we enjoy the intense, quiet, creative times when it’s just us and our manuscript, there comes a point for many of us when we realise that in order to take our writing to another level, we need to improve our skills.
The writing life is an endless process of finding things out, and that applies just as much to our own skills and abilities as it does to the subjects we’re writing about. Although we can learn a lot on our own, a writing course can be invaluable, offering guidance and support as well as allowing us to develop new skills, insights and, quite likely, directions. And no matter how experienced you are, trying a new approach can only help develop existing skills, but might well lead to unexpected discoveries and fantastic new manuscripts.
Just as each writer is different, there’s no one-size-fits-all writing course. What you decide to study, where, and how you go about it, can be tailored to what you need or want to learn. Whether you’re a new writer and want to be confident with the basics, or an advanced writer with a major project in mind, if you feel you would benefit from expert guidance and tuition, there is a writing course to help you achieve your goals.
If you’re a beginner writer, or want to try a new style of writing, try…
• Taster courses/one-off workshops
Perhaps you haven’t written anything creatively for years but fancy having a go? If you’re just putting your toe in the water, search locally for one-off courses and workshops. Good places to look are libraries, colleges and arts centres. Literary festivals are a good bet because they often programme creative writing workshops where members of the local community are welcome. Without investing a great deal of time and money, the new writer can have a go and see where the inspiration takes them.
• Beginner classes
Once someone’s been bitten by the writing bug, it really helps, especially in the early stages, to have some direction from an expert. Regular beginner-level writing classes, for instance those facilitated by a local college or community centre, will allow you to explore your creativity in a structured environment where you are expected to complete assignments. The feedback you get from your tutor at this stage will show you where your strengths are, and also where there’s room for improvement, and you will get a feel for the kind of work you enjoy producing and be able to bounce ideas around with other members of the class or group.
• Distance learning classes
If your circumstances make it difficult for you to attend a regular day or evening class, or you’d simply prefer to study at your own pace and in your own time, distance learning courses are the ideal solution. You’ll be sent learning materials either in print or digitally, and given assignments to complete. Increasingly, the distance learning experience will include online webinars and group forums, and there may be the option for Skype tutorials, but all of it will be tailored to you so you can fit your writing course into the rest of your life.
If you’re an experienced writer but want to improve…
• Intermediate level classes
You’ve got to grips with the basics in the beginner writing classes, and the writing bug has bitten. Stick to the regular class routine but take it to the next level with intermediate classes where you can build up what you learned at beginner level and develop your skills.
• Courses specialising in a specific area, eg poetry, crime, short stories, article writing
Perhaps by this stage you’ve discovered you’re drawn to a particular style or genre and want to explore it in more depth. You could search out local classes and workshops, or you might start looking further afield, ie at what’s available from specialist writing organisations, so you can start learning from expert practitioners in your chosen field.
• Intensive short courses
Allocating a long weekend or longer period of holiday time to an in-depth course in your chosen area is a real investment in your writing. You’ll learn your chosen discipline from expert writers whose books you are likely to have heard of, and quite possibly read, and they’ll be able to give you feedback on your work. The other writers on the course will be as committed to, and fascinated by, the topic as you are, so you’ll be able to exchange ideas with people with genuine insight into the subject you’re studying. By the end of the course your writing is likely to have progressed quite significantly.
• Writers’ residential or summer school
A dedicated period of time where you can attend a variety of writing courses, network with other writers and industry professionals will re-energise your writing life and give you loads of enthusiasm for trying out new projects and approaches as well as giving you opportunities to consolidate your existing writing skills by studying with professional authors and writing tutors.
• BA course
Studying for a degree in creative writing, whether as a new or mature student, gives you the chance to learn and practice different aspects of creative writing with expert tutors, and build up a significant portfolio of your own work. It opens up the possibility of career paths not only as a published writer, but within associated industries such as publishing, the media, arts organisations and advertising, marketing and PR.
If you’re ready to tackle a major writing project...
• Creative writing MA course
By the end of a creative writing MA, you’ll have studied with leading writers, met industry professionals, had the time and space to explore reading and writing at the highest level and completed a major piece of work – perhaps a novel, script, collection of poetry or short stories – to a professional standard.
• Specialist creative writing course
If you want the same standard of tuition as an MA but with the focus on a specific aspect of the process, such as completing a novel, enrol on a specialist course run by creative writing industry/publishing professionals. These courses may be class-based or online. They are aimed at serious writers and require real commitment in terms of time, money and dedication, but allow writers an intensive environment to concentrate on a work in progress and refine their skills.
• Targeted writing workshops
Rather than commit a block of time to a regular course, a writer with a dedicated project in mind could easily cherry-pick from a variety of short courses and workshops depending on the areas or topics they needed to work on. This pick’n’mix approach would suit the writer with a good awareness of what they want to achieve, the level they want to work at and most pertinently, the areas they need to work on.
If you want to broaden your writing or technical skills…
• Specialist taster class/workshop
Perhaps you fancy dabbling with a new writing style or would like to add to your existing skills? Enrol on an open-level day class or workshop – perhaps at a local literary festival – so you can get a flavour of whether a particular writing style or genre is right for you. If you find your morning of flash fiction, life-writing, poetry or whatever makes you keen to do more, you can invest your time and money in further study, and if it’s not for you, you can shift your focus to learning something else.
• Writing course abroad
Going on a writing holiday is about giving yourself permission to play with your writing, which always leads to creative discoveries. No matter how hard you work at it, the focus on a writing holiday is about enjoyment and exploration – a lovely way to revitalise your writing skills and learn something new, with built-in time for chilling out and making the most of the place you’re in and the people you’re sharing the experience with.
• Professional qualification leading to accreditation
Some writers may want to look at gaining technical skills – proof-reading or editing, for instance – so they can increase their sources of income. Enrolling on a course leading to a professional qualification adds a string to your bow, giving you the appropriate level of knowledge to be able to practice a skill. Professional bodies will offer courses and it’s worth doing your research to ensure that the qualification you gain is recognised and respected in the field you hope to work in.
And if you want to study from home…
Bear in mind that many of the options we’ve covered in this article will be available as online or distance-learning courses so that you can learn at your own pace. For many writers, learning at their own pace and in their own space is an ideal option, and there’s a wide range of writing courses available, from beginner classes through to specialist courses and creative writing study at an advanced level.