Words by Amy Lord
I’ve done all kinds of writing courses over the years, from an MA in Creative Writing to a mentoring scheme funded by the Arts Council, to one off workshops and retreats.
But some of the most useful courses I’ve found have been online.
Most writers know that it can be expensive to find the right course or workshop that will help you hone your craft, with no guarantee that you’ll have a publishable manuscript at the end of it. Sometimes a workshop can be superficial or simply inappropriate for the current stage in your writing journey.
If you know where to look, you can find some great options online that are much more affordable and will make a real difference to your work.
I’d already been through a number of drafts of my novel and had feedback from an editor, when I decided to sign up to a couple of courses with the wonderful (and fabulously sweary) Writers HQ, one in editing and the other on submitting a manuscript.
I completed both courses in the first few months of 2017 and by the autumn I’d been offered a publishing contract with Unbound.
While I didn’t make huge changes to my novel during the course, the main thing it gave me was confidence. I’d spent years working on my manuscript already and it had even won a Northern Writers’ Award. But I didn’t feel it was quite there yet in terms of finding an agent or publisher and I didn’t know how to get to that point without inside help, or another expensive round of edits.
But the course walked me through the process of editing a book and helped me to fine tune it. It also gave me plenty of opportunities to share the story with other writers, as we worked on improving our pitching skills. This really let me get under the skin of the book I’d written and understand that it did hang together, miraculously, in ways I hadn’t intended.
For those who struggle with finding time to write, signing up for an online course is a great way of building a regular writing habit. With tasks to complete, you have the support and focus you need to work on your manuscript.
However, it is up to you to motivate yourself. If you want to get the most out of the course, you need to take the time to work on your manuscript in detail, applying the exercises and putting your new editing skills to use. Without a real life meeting to go to, or someone to hold you accountable, it can be tempting to skip through the tasks, so you need to be disciplined.
And despite not meeting in person, an online course can still help you to build a community, whether it’s via a Facebook group, forum or email. Those people can become the foundation of your online community, your writing peer group. Perhaps they might even be willing to read and critique your work once the course is over.
But you have to be prepared to do the same for them.
If it’s tough to make the time to write, you also need to find time to read the work of your writing group and give them useful feedback. By working through structured exercises with a tutor, you can also develop your ability to offer solid constructive criticism.
It will not only benefit the members of your group, but it improves your own writing, as you learn to recognise the elements that don’t work within your story and fix them.
Spending time and money on an online course helped me polish my novel and improve the way I chose to present it to other people. It reassured me that my editing skills were strong enough and provided a framework through which to analyse my manuscript, pulling it apart and having the confidence to stitch it back together.
And what of the other writers I met online?
Since completing the course last year, many have gone on to their own successes, whether that is making the shortlist in a competition, finding an agent or even securing a publishing deal. But they’ve also been a source of support through the crowdfunding campaign for my novel.
Without these courses, I probably wouldn’t have had the confidence to submit my novel. I certainly wouldn’t have a publishing contract.
Amy Lord is a writer, blogger and digital marketer from North East England. Check out the Unbound page for her novel The Disappeared here and find Amy on Twitter here.