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Learning to Write through Self-Teaching

If you’re already a self-disciplined, motivated, and skilled in time management, congratulations! You’ve already mastered some of the most essential tools for success as a writer. You’re also in a good position to take advantage of self-directed learning for writing. Consuming books, guides, and tutorials on writing practices on your own is the lowest-cost and most flexible way to learn to write. In fact, you may be able to access these resources for free online or through your local library.

If you’re teaching yourself, you’ll want to look for books on the writing craft (such as style guides) and the practice of creative writing. Some of the most popular books on learning to write include:

  • On Writing, by Stephen King
  • Why I write, by George Orwell
  • Style Guide, by The Economist
  • The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White

Online resources like guides and tutorials are another easily accessible resource. These range from low-cost to free. Some of the most popular free online writing guides include:

Self-learning Pros:

  • low cost or free
  • complete flexibility

Self-learning Cons:

  • no accountability
  • Powerful writing is more than a matter of putting words together.

Learning to Write through MOOCS

MOOCs are, without a doubt, the biggest movement to shake up higher education in recent years. MOOC stands for “massive online open enrollment course.” Just as the name suggests, these classes are open to anyone, without prerequisites, offered fully online, and have high enrollment numbers. The accessibility of MOOCs is the source of their appeal; students don’t need to enroll or apply, and can learn from their own home. The high enrollment and low overhead allows schools, including prestigious institutions, to offer classes with expert instructors at a very low cost. Some MOOCs are even free!

Some of the most popular sources for writing MOOCs include:

Just how “massive” is a MOOC? Traditional education wisdom states that classes of over 60 simply can’t be taught effectively, and that learning to write requires even smaller class sizes in order to give the personal feedback this type of subject requires. By contrast, no less than 67,530 students recently learned to write in Duke University’s MOOC “Composition I: Achieving Expertise.” If you’re used to small class sizes, you’ll need to adjust your expectations. MOOCs, including those aimed at learning to write, have enrollment in the thousands.

Don’t come to a writing MOOC looking to workshop your short stories. Writing classrooms- even virtual classrooms for online programs- are usually based around discussions ands critique sessions, but MOOCs are a one-way flow of information from teacher to students. That means you will be learning writing rules, techniques, and strategies in a strictly didactic approach. Many learners will thrive on this approach to learning to write, especially in learning the basics, such as grammar and composition. MOOCs are also well-suited to learning to write in very structured fields, like business writing and technical writing. But many students, especially aspiring creative writers, will crave a more traditional classroom experience.

MOOCs Pros:

  • modest cost
  • some structure

MOOCs Cons:

  • low or no feedback
  • low or no personal attention

Learning to Write through Classes

When it comes to writing, you need moth knowledge and technique. There are rules and principles to be learned, and lots of advise to be gathered from sources like books, tutorials, and teachers. But learning to write is a lot like learning to play a new sport; to develop your craft, you’re going to also need lots of practice and coaching. If you’re learning to write through self-instruction or through MOOCs, you might benefit from forming your own peer workshop group. But this is one area where a traditional classroom setting can really help you learn to write like an expert.

In a writing class, you’ll read assigned texts as homework and discuss these in class. You’ll also write, edit, and revise your own writing, and read and critique writing by your classmates. Your instructor will give lessons, provide feedback, grade your work, and make personal recommendations, such as authors to read based on your interests. This personalized feedback and coaching can be essential to growing as a writer, especially in the creative writing field.

Some of the areas best suited for learning to write through classes are:

  • fiction
  • non-fiction
  • screenwriting
  • poetry
  • playwriting

If you decide to take a writing class, you have several options. Colleges and universities offer both undergraduate and graduate level writing classes. Most also offer continuing education classes taught by university professors, which are aimed at working adults who want to expand their knowledge. These are usually offered on nights and weekends. Many schools also offer online writing classes. These are a convenient option for those who wish to learn to write from home, or who have busy schedules. There are also writing centers, such as the Gotham Writer’s Workshop, or The Writers’ Studio, which offer non-credit classes in writing taught by professional writers.

Writing Class Pros:

  • feedback provided
  • higher structure
  • personal attention

Writing Class Cons:

  • higher cost
  • less prestige than degree

Learning to Write through Writing Degree Programs

If you can write like Ernest Hemingway or J.K. Rowling, you won’t need to show your writing degree to get a book deal. Writing is, first and foremost, a skill, and no credential is required for you to succeed if you have mastered the art of moving a reader with your words. That said, it can be very challenging to learn this craft outside of a formal writing degree program.

Many people interested in writing study English, Literature, or Journalism. Those who wish to write novels, memoirs, poetry, and short stories gravitate towards degrees in creative writing. You can earn an associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, or even PhD in creative writing, all of which are usually offered as fine arts degrees.

A high degree of structure is one of the main reasons to get a degree in writing. Whether you’re interested in working in strategic communications, novel writing, or journalism, the curriculum of writing degree programs can help you learn the craft systematically. You’ll start by developing foundational skills, build on your areas of interest and expertise, and benefit from the advise of a guidance counselor in your course selections. With a writing degree program, you’ll also benefit from school career services, an alumni network, and the resume boost that comes from graduating with a degree.

Of course, all this personal attention and intensive training comes at a cost. Full degrees in writing are not offered online as frequently as they are offered on campus at accredited universities. And whether your degree takes two years or four, you will be investing considerable time and money in earning a writing degree.

Writing Degree Pros:

  • highest structure
  • mentoring provided
  • prestige of degree
  • alumni network

Writing Degree Cons:

  • highest cost
  • large time investment

Learning Options

How will you learn to write? You’ll want to consider your resources. For instance, will your schedule allow you to take classes full-time on a campus, or is a weekly online writing class more realistic for you? Can you afford to enroll in a private college or does a free writing MOOC make the most sense? You’ll also need to think about your goals. Will your professional options be greater with a writing degree under your belt, or do you already have a settled career path? Are you looking to learn more technical skills, like composition, or develop creatively? Finally, you’ll want to know your learning style. Are a self-starter who can teach themselves using guides and tutorials, or do you thrive under the personal guidance of an expert? Do you need structure or do you need flexibility?

Writing is as much a vocation as it is a job, and it is as much a craft as it is a skill. However you decide to learn to write, you should give the greatest possible attention and effort to developing your voice and your talent. With the right training, and lots of practice, your words can be your truest expression of who you are.

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