The Writer's Cookbook

Writing, productivity, publishing.

Are Creative Writing Classes Worth it?

Ever considered taking a creative writing class but then wondered if it’s worth the time and money?

Ever thought that you could just learn everything you need about writing from a book?

Ever wondered just what creative writing classes teach anyway?

While I can’t speak for every writer or every creative writing class, I’ve studied my far share of writing. I’ve got a BA and an MA in creative writing, and regularly take part in classes at the local writers’ studio.

With writing, there’s always more to learn, and the best way to do this is by engaging with other writers.

Just what can you learn?

Are creative writing classes worth it?

There are classes out there on every aspect of writing if you know where to look. I’ve taken part in everything from crime writing to writing and the media to how to make money with your writing.

Universities, libraries, even schools are the best places to look. If your local library or university doesn’t have anything, the chances are they’ll be able to point you in the right direction. The closer you are to a big city, the more opportunities you’ll have.

But it’s important to know why you want to do the course. What do you want to get out of it?

If you don’t go into a course with a clear aim and reason for taking it, then you are wasting your time and money.

For example, when I signed up to Shreya Sen Handley‘s Writing Your Way into the Media course, I wanted help with the traditional side of media and publishing. This is something I don’t have much experience in, but wanted to branch out into as a way to boost my audience. Doing the course also helped me to hone my voice and further cement the direction of this blog, and we had some great discussions about social media and marketing.

You can never guarantee what you’ll get out of any course that you take. But I’ve gotten something out of every course I’ve taken, and there has been many.

The one that impacted me the most was Joanna Penn‘s How to Make a Living with Your Writing. While I don’t make a living with my writing, it inspired me to pursue the self-publishing route, and for that I will always be grateful.

Can’t I just learn it from a book?

Books are great. They can do many things. But they can’t critique your writing.

A good writing class will not only give you the tools to write better, but it will teach you how to use those tools too.

Most writing classes will include writing exercises (or homework!), then will go through your work at the end or a later date. You’ll be required to either print out or read out your work, then your teacher and your peers will discuss what they liked and disliked, and give you pointers on how to improve.

Receiving feedback can be scary, but it’s the best way to improve your writing. The harsher the feedback, the more they care—it shows they want your piece to be the best that it can be. The only way it can be this is by pushing you.

Receiving feedback is the best way to improve your writing. Click To Tweet

What to look for

The more you can find out about the course tutor before you sign up, the better.

The best classes are taught by experienced writers who can back up what they’re saying with published books and student referrals.

If it’s a course on selling books and they’ve only sold 100, they’re not the best person to be teaching that class.

It is not a case of those who can, do, those who can’t, teach.

The best writers do spend most of their time writing, but they also want to share their knowledge of writing too.

That’s why Stephen King wrote On Writing; that’s why Carol Ann Duffy teaches at Manchester Met.

Most writers are more than willing to share their knowledge; all you have to do is ask.

Most writers are more than willing to share their knowledge; all you have to do is ask. Click To Tweet

What to avoid

Are creative writing classes worth it?

If you come across an empty or vague course description, AVOID.

AVOID AVOID AVOID.

If the description is vague, it’s likely the course will be, too.

What sold me to my creative writing MA was that they went into detail on their website about what each module was about, and how the class were also expected to put together an anthology as part of the course. This would be (for most) their first published work.

Surprisingly, it’s not something that all creative writing BAs or MAs do, despite the process teaching many skills that are needed for not just the writing and publishing industries, but the workplace as well.

If someone tries to tell you how great they are at something but can’t prove why they’re great, spend your money elsewhere.

How much is too much?

Like everything in life, the more you pay, the more value you’re likely to get out of something.

Writing classes can cost anything from a few pounds to a few thousand pounds.

How much you’re prepared to spend is up to you. Generally speaking, the longer the course is, the more expensive it is. The longer the course is, the more knowledge you’ll get from it and the more likely you are to form a relationship with your teacher at the end. This relationship could be invaluable to you later on. It can lead to everything from guest posts on your blog to publication in magazines, so keep in touch with those who’ve taught you.

Networking is everything in the writing world.

Networking is everything in the writing world. Click To Tweet

So are creative writing classes worth it?

Yes, if:

  • You’re willing to put the time and effort in—there may be homework!
  • You can afford it
  • You know what you want to get out of it
  • Your teacher knows what they’re talking about (be sure to do your research!)
  • You keep an open mind

Over to You

What are your experiences with creative writing classes? Do you find them worthwhile? I’d love to hear how you feel in the comments!

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4 Comments

  1. Terry Tyler

    You missed a vital ‘Yes if’ out! ‘Yes, if you already have a gift for the written word’. Writing courses can’t teach you talent, any more than a singing coach can teach you to sing if you’re tone deaf. I think people need to be aware of this, too. It’s not something you can learn from nothing, like a practical skill. However, classes can teach you to hone what you do have, yes, I agree. Or teach the skills that ARE practical, like selling books.

    • Interesting point, Terry, but what would you class as ‘a gift for the written word’? What makes a good story, compelling characters, and well-written prose is subjective. There are certain things that can be graded – like how clearly points are communicated, avoiding cliches, and three-dimensional characters – but you don’t learn how to do those things without practise. It’s a lot easier to tell if someone is tone deaf because you can tell if they’re hitting the write notes, but the technicalities of writing are far more subtle.

  2. Terry Tyler

    I agree, but I think talent with writing is all about whether or not you have that ‘thing’ that makes people want to keep turning the pages. I read a LOT, from very popular authors, to classics, to books from indies for a review team I read for, and sometimes what strikes me (with the latter group) is that the writer might have a good story, or have taken great care to edit out all cliches, but that spark is missing. Then there are those who have never attended a writing class, but know instinctively how to make a character leap off the page.

    My sister is a proofreader, and she says the ones she likes working on least are not those that have mistakes in every paragraph, but the nothing-wrong-with-it-it’s-just-not-very-good ones. I went to a talk given by a few literary agents a while back, and when someone stood up and asked if they thought such courses were worth attending, they all groaned and laughed, and one said you can always tell the creative writing course submissions, because they tick all the boxes but are usually as dreary as hell. Formulaic. But that was only the few who were there, of course! (btw, if your blog is partly as an advert for courses you run, I will totally understand if you delete this comment).

    Zadia Smith said “you can either write good sentences or you can’t.” I agree with that, but I get that not everyone does. And, after all, one of my favourite writers, John Boyne, did a creative writing degree to hone his skills. So I can see both sides!

  3. Lee Wright

    I’ve been writing since 2008 and have always had doubts about creative writing courses. That was until I took a 5 week course last year called Elements of Fiction. The course was put together and taught by Man-Booker short listed author Alison Moore.

    It was a mid-day, hour long session. Along with myself 6 other people were on it (four were retired) and all were at different stages in there writing. One guy was completely new to writing and just fancied having a go (he was actually very good) and one elderly lady dropped out after week 2 and never returned. Two members of the group had been on numerous writing courses and admitted to only writing when on a course.

    Having always taken my writing seriously I wasn’t sure what to expect but the assignments set our by Alison were first class and covered a lot of levels that both the occasional and more frequent writer could learn from.

    Before going in to the course I had never dared to write in the first person or tried writing short stories but by the end of the 5 weeks my writing style and confidence had improved so much that I now prefer to use the first person narrative and have written 10 or so short pieces.

    Cost wise I would have paid a lot more than what it actually cost as Alison’s teaching and advice was so good.

    And what else did I get out of it? Well I have since been accepted onto a 2 year MA creative writing course despite not having any formal qualifications (my writing sample and a reference from Alison Moore being good enough for the University) so at the age of 37 I am finally doing something that I have wanted to do for a long time…writing and meeting likeminded others.

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