View Full Version : Experience with on-line writing classes?

06-01-2010, 10:24 AM
I'm considering an on-line writing class, probably Gotham or Zoetrope, and I would be curious to hear about your thoughts/experiences with these or similar classes.

Did you enjoy it?

Was it worth the time and money?

Was it more beneficial than having a handful of beta readers?

Anything else stand out about it good or bad?

Tell me everything please.

06-01-2010, 11:01 AM
I never found any value in regular writing classes. Always seemed that it was just some teacher trying to make everyone do things her way. So much about writing is arbitrary and/or personal. The one class I did sign up for, after having been published for many years, was a novel writing class with Ben Bova ... I think that would have been great, since we'd met a few times and I like the way he thinks (and writes), but sadly it was 2 weeks after 9/11 and I was too sick to get on a plane.

I can only guess at the value of online classes. Like anything else, I'm sure there are good ones and rotten ones.

I still think the best schooling (once you've got the basics and some practice writing) is to volunteer as a submissions reader for a publication of any size. See what your competition is doing, and just how jarringly awful a lot of submissions are ... a very handy view of things. ;-)

Linda Adams
06-01-2010, 02:32 PM
I took several workshops (not with the resources you mentioned). All of them were free, but I believe the next time they will hold them, they're going to charge because of the amount of time it took.

Was it worth the time and money?

The first one was on viewpoint. We wrote scenes with all the different viewpoints. That turned out to be extremely helpful because it introduced me to omniscient viewpoint, which was what I needed to be writing in.

The one on description: I almost left it four times. It was slanted way over into fantasy, so I had trouble relating to the exercises. It was also not a good fit for me. I was at a different place than the other writers--I wasn't excepting basics of description, but that's what I got.

The one on outlining: This was supposed to be a pantser-friendly outline, but I had trouble with each of the steps. Two I didn't understand at all. One of the areas I had trouble with was that I can't put characterization into any prep work (when I gel to the idea, the characters are still only placeholders. They don't even have names). The instructor kept telling me to go outside of my comfort zone, like I was resisting trying. It ended up being a very frustrating experience, though the one thing I finally did realize coming out of that workshop was that I can't outline at all.

Was it more beneficial than having a handful of beta readers?

Again, the omni workshop was where I got the most out of it. We were all going outside our comfort zones and doing viewpoints we weren't ordinarily use. Everyone's comments were far different than the other two. In the description workshop, I don't think anyone knew what to do with me, and in the outline workshop, I had multiple people trying to explain the outline to me. That sounds like it was helpful, but often when you have an unusual problem, people tend to explain how to do it exactly the same way as the last person, as if you're not interpreting the instructions properly. Another writer was having similar problems--I suspect her process might have been similar to my own--and got a lot of the same. Neither of us understand how to do the outline by the end of the workshop, though everyone else was merrily able to do it.

Other comments: Make sure you do the exercises properly. One of the pitfalls of the viewpoint workshop class was that many people simply took the same scene and changed I to George. I revised each scene to try to make use of each viewpoint's unique aspects, and that's one of the reasons I really clicked with omni.

06-01-2010, 03:10 PM
I took an online revision course with Lani Diane Rich (http://www.storywonk.com/?page_id=47/) earlier in the year. The course was six weeks of live lectures (via webcam) during which you could type questions, along with a private forum for discussion.

Lani was a lively instructor and a very active participant in the forum.

I particularly liked that all the "homework" involved working on aspects of your manuscript, so you were improving your story as you cemented the lessons in your head. This also meant that if you ran into trouble (as I did when I realised I had the world's most passive antagonist) you could ask questions to help you get back on track.

For me, it was a very positive experience.


06-01-2010, 05:34 PM
I'd say keep your mind open to every learning possibility. I have taken on line college courses but never on-line writing classes. I think there is a personal face to face thing about critiques and writing exercises that I would rather experience in person. I feel on line classes are cold and impersonal. They are good for gathering information and learning technical things, but don't work for "the arts."

06-01-2010, 10:56 PM
I took several of the Writers Online Workshops from Writer's Digest a number of years back. I don't regret any of them.

Did you enjoy it?
Yes, I enjoyed them all.

Was it worth the time and money?
I felt it was, as I learned a lot just from critiquing other writer's works, which I hadn't done before that. Although some classes were more helpful than others. It really depends on the instructor and the other students.

Was it more beneficial than having a handful of beta readers?
If you have good betas, odds are no. My betas are better than a class, however, back when I took the class, I wasn't at the skill level I'm at now. I did learn things from the classes. Depending on the class and who's teaching it, it might be worth it to you to get a "professional" evaluation of your work. Or if the class can teach you something your betas can't.

Anything else stand out about it good or bad?
It's the luck of the draw, and that can be good or bad. I had one class where the instructor was so-so, but the other students were great and I learned more from them. And I've had an instructor who was amazing and really helped me get stuff I'd been struggling with.

Tell me everything please.
I think it's something you'll have to trust your gut on. If you can easily afford it, and want to do it, I see no reason why you shouldn't try it out. It might be great, it might be a waste of time, but you won't really know until you're there. If you're stretching yourself financially to do it, then it might be better to stick with your betas. You don't need classes to improve. They're just one of many options out there you could try.

06-01-2010, 10:58 PM
Thanks for the replies.

I'm not sure if I'll sign up for one of these or not. (I was surprised to learn the Gotham Workshop is $395.) Still, it was helpful to read your experiences.

Thanks again.

06-02-2010, 12:08 AM
I enjoyed the UCLA online writing program. Learned quite a lot, actually, and most of their instructors are published authors with at least two commercially published works. That's a good sign.

06-02-2010, 06:19 PM
I attended a Writers' Digest 90 minute seminar on Query letters. The instructor was good and she covered the topic well. If asked for an overall comment on the seminar, I'd have to say the information provided was overwhelmingly obvious. Perhaps someone who never wrote a query letter taking this lecture would be impressed with the knowledge, but she didn't tell me anything I didn't already know.
As part of the seminar, the instructor critiqued our query letters. I found that helpful, and possibly worth the money.
I also received a download of all the submitted letters and their critiques. These were helpful.
They also sent a copy of the lecture, which I was able to share with my writing group. Some of those members noted that they learned new things from the lecture.

06-02-2010, 10:27 PM
I've taken both of Holly Lisle's courses (how to revise your novel and how to think sideways) and got a lot of useful information out of them. They weren't overly expensive or time-consuming, and I learned some new ideas and techniques.

Writing is a lifelong learning experience and it's likely you'll learn something from just about course you take, whether it's how to do something new or how NOT to do something.