Online Writing Courses (that are worth it!)

Online Writing Courses (that are worth it!)

Hey folks! I’m a home school teacher and after school tutor by profession… so good courses mean a lot to me. I’ve been scrounging around the internet for three years trying to find good online courses and forums. So far, I would say only two programs were worth it. Here’s my 2¢:

UCLA Extension Writers’ Program

There’s not enough good I can say about these courses. UCLA offers live courses on their campus that generally meet once a week. I’ve never been to one of these. But what I love most about UCLA is their extensive online catalog of courses. They cover all genres of writing, including TV and movie scripts. They have accomplished authors on their team of instructors. The online format consists of Blackboard, a user friendly course and bulletin board system. They also have a very friendly team of counselors that will promptly reply to any questions or concerns you may have. Trust me, I’ve emailed them… A LOT. They offer a Certificate Program in Writing, which I have signed up for, and have almost completed. It will help me in my application for a Masters degree in Fine Arts when I apply in 2011. Sign up early! Enrollment is limited to about 14 or 15 students.

I will leave it up to you to check out the catalog for a list of courses they offer (not only in writing, BTW!). For now, I’ll give a little summary of the courses I’m currently taking and have taken in the past.

Past Courses

Creative Writing: Short Story (Online) (Fall 2007)

This course can be taken for UCLA college credit (a nice plus!). This class introduced me to one of my favorite books on writing fiction: Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. Each week, we read a chapter of the book, a story that illustrated the concept, and wrote an exercise of our own. We submitted two original stories for class critique. Focus was on the craft of the stories. The professor was Emily Rapp. She had great insight and offered constructive critiques.

Creative Writing: Poetry (Online) (Winter 2008)

This course is also available for college credit. (YAY!) Same as above, except with poetry. I had a hard time with this class. The instructors were great… but no one liked my poetry. Seems like I had too much thought, not much sensation. I need more sensation. Sensational. Sensory. Image. Detail. You know. It was a great course for me. Humbling. But I needed to step out of my comfort zone. I fail to recall the professor’s name (SO SAD). Sorry! My only excuse is that is was a very tough time in my life, the Winter of 2008 (shudder). On to the next goodie…

Adventuring in Other Worlds for Fun and Profit: Writing the Science Fiction Novel (Online) (Took it twice – yes it was THAT good. Winter 2008 and Fall 2009)

This course, led by the seriously cool Don Webb, was a blast. Don is an interactive professor. Expect many emails that lead you to cool websites and thought-food. He’s the only professor I have encountered that submits his own stories for critique. He walks the walk. His stories are fascinating and odd. I secretly think he must be a psychic overlord from the planet Ahnk, but that’s just me. OK, the course leads you up the stairway of writing the first chapter of a sci-fi novel. Don is very encouraging, and offers pointed (not verbose) suggestions to improve on your works. If you click on his links and genuinely do the exercises, this course would be like a full-time job (He doesn’t require all that, for those of you with strict time limitations). That’s a good thing. There’s lots to learn and think about on this course!

Novel Writing I: Writing the First Novel (Online) (Spring 2009)

This course was a step by step guide to writing the first chapter of a novel in any genre. The only drawback to this course would be that I had no idea how to plan out an entire novel… so I would take Novel Planning first. I ended up having to throw away most of what I had written. For those of you with a better idea, or an outline for your whole novel already, or feel like you don’t need to plan (hey, I recognize that you geniuses exist!), take this course. My instructor was Sheila Williams, who writes novels right up my alley. She’s a real sweetheart. I loved her suggestions and encouragement.

Writing the Fantastic (Online) (I took this one twice, too. Yes, it was THAT good! Spring 2009 and Spring 2010)

This is a very thorough course. You have weekly lectures, and various writing assignments that help you brainstorm and craft unique stories in the ‘Fantastic’ genre. I would not limit this course to simple sci-fi or fantasy. The instructor, Alyx Dellamonica has her course very organized and well thought-out. There are many stories to read, discuss and seek inspiration from. The class offers the opportunity to submit a short story or piece of novel for in depth critique, and the final project is a rewrite based on the feedback. The rewrite is the most valuable aspect of this course in my mind, because I tend to shy away from this aspect of writing. I like to get my arm twisted to ‘do the right thing.’ I am taking this class RIGHT NOW!

Meeting the Muse: Building a Writing Practice (Online) (Fall 2009)

I took this class because I was being a bad girl and avoiding the pen. It effectively launched me onto my path to becoming published. The instructor, Virginia Schwartz was an inspiration. She had such deep insight, and offered it up with almost every post in the discussion boards. She introduced me to two very cool books on inspirational writing: Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer. For anyone who wants an inspirational guide to writing, get these books. They will not only make you feel better about yourself, they may just incite the flame of discipline under your butt. The course involves many exercises to keep you writing. You start a journal and respond to pointed questions. You are asked to reflect on the things that work or don’t work for you in terms of writing. You get inspired by your peers as much as by the instructor on this course!

Novel Writing II: Writing a Novel the Professional Way Workshop (Online) (Winter 2010)

This novel writing class was fantastic. It workshops approximately 50 pages of your novel in draft. I had about 30 pages, and I completely rewrote them. The good thing is, when I submitted my first draft, I was very uncertain how to proceed through to the end of my novel. I had POV problems, voice problems… I had… PROBLEMS! The instructor, Robert Eversz, tells you the straight dope. If it sucks, he’ll let you know. BUT FEAR NOT! He will also let you know precisely what your draft needs to improve. And I mean, precisely. He will edit your work line by line and let you know his thoughts as he progresses through it. He’s also fast to respond. You are never left waiting with Robert. He is very interactive on the discussion boards. You can get a lot out of your time and money with Robert as an instructor. The more you commit, the more he does. Thanks, Robert! Robert is a fan of the writing instruction book From Where you Dream by Robert Olen Butler. I have yet to read this book, but have been meaning to for a long time.

Bad Guys, Big Money–or How I Learned to Love Norman Bates: A Character Workshop (Online) (Winter 2010)

Another course led by the freakishly awesome inspirational instructor and writer, Don Webb. This course really magnifies a small aspect of Don’s Adventuring course… the villain versus the hero. (Aren’t they really just the same thing???) Well, he certainly begs the question on this course. There is a lot of opportunity to develop your bad guy on this course and sets up your writer’s toolbox to create an infinite number of them for future projects. Again, Don inspires through multiple email links and discussions on the board. The criticism is always positive. He just wants his students to succeed. Don encourages students to query and to get published. He has many past students who have… Anyway, villains were fun for me to write. BTW, I will take on anyone in the nasty villain genre. I can get quite bad when I want to… Beware. I may freaka-you-outta here.

Novel Planning: Bringing Order out of Chaos (Online) (Winter 2010)

The courses just get better and better. Lynn Hightower runs this course. You can take it even if you don’t have a novel in mind yet, but know you want to write one.  On this course, we read the majority of a novel structuring book entitled, Write Away: One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life by Elizabeth George. I loved this book. It helped me tremendously. Lynn organizes her class by getting you to piece together the structure of your complete novel in terms of high concept, heart, scene, and an act structure with scenes. Then you write the first 10 to 20 pages of your draft. Lynn is a tough critic. She will let you know where your logic is funny, what’s unbelievable, in addition to what works. She’s a VERY SUCCESSFUL writer, and feel very lucky to have worked with her and gotten her advice. I plan on working with her in the future when I sign up for the MASTER’s class in the Fall of 2010.

Inside Story (Online) (Winter 2010)

AMAZING COURSE! Lisa Cron is fantastic and positive. (Check out the link… she’s got some impressive credientials). The lectures she delivers on this course are very well written, and very thorough with many examples. She knows exactly how to critique a work to bring it to full potential. The philosophy behind this class is to teach a writer how to build a story. Emphasis is making the reader want to turn the page. I learned why some published stuff that I feel is crappy still gets published… it is because it has what Lisa teaches… STORY! A writer with voice and great delivery can fail in that department and not get published… I know I was missing this aspect. This class offers special perks. Lisa will give you extensive personal instruction on a selected piece/pieces of your work. Her energy and ideas are contagious. I recommend EVERY writer who wants to get published to take this course. It is for everyone.

Current Courses

Writing Experimental Fiction (Online) (Spring 2010)

This class is amazing. I never felt my writing ‘fit in’ until this class. I didn’t even know these genres existed! I am so pleased to have found a home! The instructor, Tantra Bensko, teaches from the heart. Not only is she a fantastic author in the realm of Lucid Fiction, but also is an artist. I admire her dedication to the craft and her productivity! Tantra, you are amazing! I am under the impression that this course is a new one for UCLA, and I CHERISH IT! I thank the gods for bringing it to me, and am planning on signing up for every other Tantra course available, UCLA or no. I have been able to open up and write what I want without hindrance for the first time in this course, and successfully so. YAY! DISCLAIMER: You don’t have to be a Lucid Fiction writer to love this course. I think everyone should participate… Harry Potter lovers to Italio Calvino lovers will get something out of it.

Novel Writing III: Writing a Novel the Professional Way Works-in-Progress Workshop (Online)

This is another class by Robert Eversz. I am getting the same experience, just with new pages. Love it.

Visit the UCLAExtension website or view the catalog!

Gotham Writers’ Workshop

Before I tried out UCLA Extension, I did a few Gotham Writers’ Workshop classes. They also offer a certificate program. I never completed it, and instead chose to go through UCLA’s certificate program, BUT Gotham is far more affordable, has published instructors (Some also work for UCLA), and a similar workshop experience. Once you sign up for a class, you have free online access to an amazing number of lectures and articles written by published professionals. Most of their fiction courses are workshop based, like UCLA. They also offer a few ‘How to Get Published’ courses which are worth having a look at. If you happen to be in the New York area, I would recommend going to one of the physical classes. I would love to. Gotham has two publications out, both of which I own and loved reading: Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide from New York’s Acclaimed Creative Writing School and Gotham Writers’ Workshop Fiction Gallery: Exceptional Short Stories Selected by New York’s Acclaimed Creative Writing School. If you are serious about writing, I would buy and read them both.

What’s Your Experience?

Please comment me if you have any other program suggestions or want to give your 2¢ on your personal experiences with the programs I have mentioned. You can also email me with questions.

5 Responses to “Online Writing Courses (that are worth it!)”

  1. I found your site via yahoo thanks for the post. I will bookmark it for future reference. Thanks BookStores Online

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  2. June says:

    Hi Lori,

    I love the write up, especially on the UCLA program. I’m in the certificate program also. I searched and searched and felt the UCLA Writer’s Program was the best one for me.

    Now I’m off the explore other parts of the website! It looks great!

    Take care,

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  3. Hello Lori,

    Excellent resources! Thank you for posting the specific classes you recommend.

    To reinforce your list, I am happy – ecstatic! – with my studies with Tantra Bensko. She teaches through as well as:

    Writers College


    Tantra Bensko’s Academy

    At Gotham Writers Workshop ( I wholeheartedly recommend screenwriting with Tal McThenia. He is one amazing teacher in 10,000. Gotham has other screenwriting teachers and they usually don’t publicize who exactly is teaching a course. But, if you call them or email and ask, they will tell you who the instructor is. Tal does not teach every session, as he is too much in demand in the movie industry.

    Happy writing! 🙂

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  4. Gavin says:

    Great post! I’ve been searching for an online course to improve my writing in general and found your site. What do you think about Stanford’s Online Writer’s Studio?

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    • Lori Moritz says:

      I looked into Stanford’s program. It looks very professional. I chose to go with UCLA because they offer a certificate, whereas Stanford does not. Like UCLA, Stanford’s courses run for 10 weeks and have successful writers/published authors instructing their courses as well. However, the price tag is about 50% more for Stanford. That is the main reason I have yet to sign up for one of their courses. Also, UCLA has a greater variety of courses to pick from in their online category. I am certain that Stanford’s classes are high quality, and will most likely try one out in the future. I will post something here about it when I do. 🙂 What sort of class are you looking for?

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