Writing is such a huge topic! There are so many specialized types of practical writing, but I will focus here on general creative writing. Am I saying that creative writing is not practical or that practical writing is not creative? LOL No, certainly not. All writing is creative to a degree, even when it’s very technical. What I’ll be talking about are ways to learn the craft of writing – writing skills courses.
Creative writing includes fiction, poetry, essays, plays, scripts, even non-fiction – anything that has a narrative, character development, literary themes, and that strives to evoke an emotional response from the reader.
Many believe that writing is a natural talent that you’re born with. Others argue that only hard work can make a good writer. I tend to agree with the second camp more. Either way, any creative person could benefit from getting even better at what they do, at their craft. And with writing being such a complex skill, it’s not one of those abilities that should rely solely on talent.
This time, my review breakdown looks very simple:
Apart from the obvious criteria of making sure that these are quality courses taught by knowledgeable instructors, I also wanted to provide you with a range of options. All of them can work as your best online writing courses for new writers or they can be taken by intermediate and in some cases more advanced writers.
Our most valuable resources are time and money. With that in mind, there was no way for me to just pick one and say, “OK, this one’s the best. Sign up. See you later.” That’s why my writing course selection has something for everybody. Whichever way you dissect them, I know that they won’t break the bank and will deliver knowledge that you can use right away.
Let’s dive right in!
My Favorite (& The Best) Writing Courses
Margaret Atwood Teaches Creative Writing
You’ve probably read The Handmaid’s Tale or seen the TV series. If not, you owe it to yourself. Margaret Atwood is a fiction writing legend. In this true-master class, she shares how she wrote her stories and gives away many of her tips and processes for all those who want to write fiction themselves.
This incredible class consists of 23 lessons ranging from deep creative insights to very practical and pragmatic details that you can immediately apply to your own writing. In its visual form, it’s more like a collection of beautifully filmed short documentaries than what you’d normally expect a course to look like.
To begin with, Margaret explains how she got started, her interesting background, and how she got into reading and writing. Then she jumps into the writing process, how to begin and how not to, and about starting with characters, voices, and scenes instead of a theme.
Ms. Atwood doesn’t just provide recipes to be copied but guides you on how to carve your own path. She suggests how to find your process and how to cultivate tons of brilliant ideas. She also covers mindset and dealing with fear before she moves into practical hands-on advice.
Here is some of this writing course syllabus:
- 04 – Structuring Your Novel: Layered Narratives and Other Variations
Margaret illustrates innumerable ways of structuring your story to create a multi-layered narrative. She gives examples using the classic tales Little Red Riding Hood, Arabian Nights, as well as her own novel The Blind Assassin.
- 06 – Point of View Case Studies
Here, she discusses how she used multiple points of view in Alias Grace, and why she wrote The Handmaid’s Tale from the first person point of view.
- 07 – Bringing Characters to Life Through Detail
Actions and reactions reveal character, as do details that the writer carefully weaves into the story. Margaret gives you precise tools to help you create refined and well-developed characters you know by heart.
- 09 – Writing Through Roadblocks
Learn Margaret’s advice for overcoming common yet difficult challenges like writer’s block, constant interruptions, or narrative problems you can’t easily solve.
- 14 – The Door to Your Book: The Importance of the First Five Pages
From Moby Dick to A Tale of Two Cities, Margaret shares some of her favorite opening lines and emphasizes the value of making your first five pages utterly compelling.
- 21 – The Writer’s Path
Margaret reveals the one book she recommends to all writers. She also shares inspirational stories from writers past and present as words of encouragement to help you persevere when confronted with obstacles you will eventually run into.
- 22 – The Business of Being a Writer
How to find an agent, get published, and deal with negative reviews. Here Margaret offers her knowledgeable perspective on the business of being a writer.
Whenever you are dealing with such experienced masters, you can’t expect to get only dry pragmatic tips to use today. You will, but thankfully, you’ll get so much more. These champions in their fields think and operate on a very different level than those of us who are still developing and honing our skills.
Another great aspect of Margaret’s class is that along the way while sharing all of her wise craft insights, she also gives regular encouragement. If you have any fears about your writing, her way of presenting the process seems to give a major confidence boost.
This tends to happen when you watch masters perform or explain their craft – oh yeah, I can do this, this is easy! It is so simple and flows so well. But you will also be inspired by Margaret’s own failures and stories about her first novels. You will realize that even she had to start somewhere and struggled quite a bit at first.
Margaret is an endearing, reassuring, and compelling teacher. You will come out of this class feeling like you’ve been given some intimate craft secrets in private mentoring sessions, her smirk only adding to that mystery. She will change the way you look at writing and you’ll be able to apply it to your work right away.
As seems to be the case with most MasterClass courses, every lesson comes with a PDF. This is a well-designed document that not only summarizes the lesson but is also packed with exercises, and in this case, has suggested reading that can further help you with the subject at hand.
Speaking of exercise, remember that how much you will get from a course like this will greatly depend on how much you put in. Becoming a good writer is all about writing – bad writing at first, mediocre, then average… These are all the stages you have to go through in order to become a solid and great writer. Expect that.
So don’t you be skimping on practice! You will be told to get one separate notebook for this writing course. If you have time, I would watch the whole thing once through and then dig in on the second pass. That’s how I usually do it. However you do it, please make sure you apply the newly imparted knowledge!
Margaret Atwood is a Canadian author who has published over 60 books of fiction, non-fiction, poems, and works for children. Both she and her work have won numerous awards and honors. Atwood’s best-known works are The Handmaid’s Tale, The Blind Assassin, Cat’s Eye, Alias Grace, Oryx and Crake, and Surfacing.
Her popularity exploded recently with her works getting adapted for television and film. The New Yorker has called her the “Prophet of Dystopia.” Her best-known The Handmaid’s Tale has stood the test of time and is incredibly synchronous with the modern political climate.
MasterClass is a San Francisco based company that produces the highest quality courses available today. Not only are videos shot and produced by the highest TV and film standards, but each and every teacher represents crème de la crème of their particular niche.
I was absolutely blown away when I first saw it. Like all great ideas, it seems obvious now. But when it first came out, which was only back in 2015, it was a complete mind shift. I would gladly argue that MasterClass is by far the best online education value you can get for your money today!
You can pay a certain amount (it changes, around $100) for one class, or you can pay twice that and get a one year access to ALL CLASSES! If there ever was a no-brainer decision, this is it.
So, don’t even think about getting only this one class – get MasterClass instead! I will list some more writing classes below for you to check out.
There is no way to write a review of this class that will do it justice. Not only is the value of this course impossible to measure, but I’m still struggling with the idea that regular people can now access this type of coaching. And for so little money to boot!
Whether you’re a Margaret Atwood fan, or someone working on improving your craft, you can’t go wrong with this. Whether you are a total beginner or a seasoned writer, there’s something (a lot) for you in here, can’t go wrong.
There is no required Atwood reading for this class. Obviously, having experienced her world as a reader, you’ll get an extra level of enjoyment. And if you’re into speculative fiction, dystopias, and utopias, she’s the one. But none of that matters – a master is a master and you have lots to learn. With Margaret Atwood, you most certainly will.
There are numerous master classes available on MasterClass. Here are five more writing courses that may be more up your alley:
- Judy Blume Teaches Writing
- James Patterson Teaches Writing
- Dan Brown Teaches Writing Thrillers
- Malcolm Gladwell Teaches Writing
- R.L. Stine Teaches Writing For Young Audiences
And there are three more of the best online tv, film, and theater writing courses:
- David Mamet Teaches Dramatic Writing
- Shonda Rhimes Teaches Writing For Television
- Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting
The Foundations of Fiction (Writing Mastery)
Become a creative writing master and write killer novels, memoirs, or short stories. This is an engaging, inspiring, and comprehensive new fiction writing course for beginners and advanced writers. Whether you want to write novels, short stories, memoirs, flash fiction, or even screenplays and stage plays, this course will help you master the foundations that make up all great fiction.
This best-selling Udemy course is presented by two young, engaging, knowledgeable and successful writers based in the US. It is organized around 6 Universal Foundations that make up all excellent works of fiction. These six tools are:
- Point of View
- Narrative Style
Every accomplished fiction writer has mastered these essential elements and uses them to craft their stories.
This course has a flexible curriculum that allows you to learn at your own pace and based on your skill level. There are two learning tracks – Foundation and Advanced. If you’re just starting out, the Foundation Track helps you master the basics first before moving onto the more advanced elements. If you’re a more experienced writer or want to push yourself, go with the Advanced Track and dive deeper into each of the six areas of fiction writing mastery.
Whichever track you choose, after taking this course, you will:
- Be more inspired to write
- Feel more confident about your writing
- Notice a vast improvement in your writing abilities
By the end of this course, you will be able to:
- Create complex, realistic characters who jump right off the page
- Write vibrant, riveting dialog that will breathe life into your scenes
- Construct vivid, memorable settings that will shape the world of your story
- Compose intricate, exciting prose that will pull readers in from the first word
- Structure masterful, gripping plots that will hook readers and keep them turning pages
The course currently has 54 lessons and over 25 writing prompts. These are fun inspirations designed to spark your imagination and get you into practice. Once you get your creative juices flowing, you will have a chance to implement each of the lecture topics. This is crucial for retaining presented information.
This writing course has many examples from popular books and movies that will help you fully grasp the foundational elements of great storytelling. Combined with lots of practical writing tips and advice, you will find yourself on an unforgettable creative journey toward becoming an exceptional fiction writer.
Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned writer looking to improve your craft, this fun, interactive course will give you the skills, confidence, and inspiration you need to become a fiction writing master!
Jessica Brody is an international bestselling author, screenwriter, and coach. She has written more than 15 novels for teens, tweens, and adults.
She is published in over 23 countries and some of her works are currently in development as major motion pictures. Jessica is also the co-author (with Joanne Rendell) of a space opera called A Sky Without Stars – a sci-fi reimagining of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.
Joanne Rendell is a novelist, writing teacher, and Ph.D. in English Literature. She’s the author of three novels published by Penguin.
She is also the co-author (with Jessica Brody) of sci-fi novel A Sky Without Stars, published by Simon and Schuster. She writes essays and interviews for the Huffington Post and other publications.
Udemy is one of the best online teaching and learning platforms. You get lifetime access to every course you buy, and you can watch them in a browser or on your phone. Each course includes access to the Q&A section where you can ask questions, read other students’ questions, and get in touch with the teachers or other students.
Due to its huge selection of courses and their competitive pricing, Udemy’s prices are some of the lowest in the business, especially when compared to the quality they offer. Due to how their pricing is structured, courses are often priced far below the prices that teachers would normally sell them for.
Among the selections that I’ve made for you here, this is by far the least expensive course on this page. Which is not to say that it’s lacking in quantity or quality. It’s simply one more option that is very cost-effective.
This online writing course already had thousands of students. Once you have that many students, their ratings become much meaningful. They are broken down exactly how I like to see them with the majority being five stars and half as many four stars.
I noticed that only one other creative writing course has more students – almost twice as many. But it also has half as many reviews and a lower rating! That clearly tells you a lot about its quality. We don’t write reviews when things are just meh, OK. We tend to leave feedback when we either love it or hate it. So again, this course is a clear winner!
Here are some of the many positive comments left by their students:
- “Very informative and well worth the time and cost. Jessica has shown me some new ways to approach my storytelling and how to make sure I am telling the best tale I can.” – Noel
- “This course is worth far more than the price of admission!” – Talmage
- “Jessica Brody nails all the elements in this course. The exercises are brilliant and very helpful. Thank you for such a great course!” – Kimberley
- “If you write (or plan to write), get this course” – Scott
- “I have learned so much information that has helped me in the writing process.” – Christy
When you go to the course page and collapse all the lectures, you will find several preview lessons scattered throughout the course. These are freebies available for you to check out to help you make the final decision.
It should be an easy decision, don’t you think?
Creative Writing Specialization
This is a specialization that’s made up of four courses plus one course where all that knowledge comes together. In the four main courses, you will learn the plot, the character, the setting, and the style.
Creative Writing Specialization comprises five courses. The first four are taught by four different professors and the last one is a culmination project where it all comes together. You don’t have to take all of them – you can also pick and choose which of the four courses (or the final) you want to take.
Let’s be very very clear – this course is not gonna be for everybody! If you’re looking for quick bang-bang info, it ain’t for you. Well, I guess you could fast forward through all the presentations, but they’re not that long and that really isn’t the point – this knowledge needs to be applied to be learned.
If you’re gonna be slacking on your homework and practice, nope, not for you either. Besides, if you’re gonna be lazy and not writing much, you may want to reconsider this whole creative writing idea.
Also, if you haven’t been to college, this may not be for you. You may not be used to how that process works and it may be too much of a commitment for you. Then again, maybe you’d benefit from its organization and structure. Each of the courses is devised to be taken slowly over a number of weeks so that you can take time to practice your writing, go through drafts, and still manage to do other things in your life.
This actually is the best approach to absorb “the whole package”. When it comes to learning, it may be crucial to have a deadline and be forced to do stuff. Many of us would fail if just given the info without any testing. In other words, if you are serious about writing, then seriously consider this one.
This Specialization and its four courses cover elements of three major creative writing genres: short story, narrative essay, and memoir. You will master the techniques that good writers use to compose a stimulating story with interesting characters in an attractive setting, written in a clear style. You will also analyze and constructively evaluate your peers’ writing. In the final part, the Capstone, you will draft, rewrite, and complete an actual original story in one of the three genres.
You will be able to develop a stronger ability to not only refine your writing, but critique writing in general and find inspiration in the works you are already reading. In other words, while these courses’ lectures are taught by professors, they will not be involved in grading your work. Instead, students will be reviewing each other’s work.
Don’t let that scare you though. Think of peer reviews as another fantastic opportunity to learn. As a writer, you will need to be able to both take criticism and give it. And you need to become a more analytical reader. This task in itself is worth the price of admission, although it’s not exactly what you’ll be signing up for.
There is no particular writing level or requirement for these courses. They are designed for anyone from the hopeful short story writer to established author.
These courses can be taken in the order of your choice. And again, being effectively separate courses, you are under no obligation to take all of them. But they do make one complete specialization and I will cover them as such. Here they are.
- Creative Writing: The Craft of Plot
- Creative Writing: The Craft of Character
- Creative Writing: The Craft of Setting and Description
- Creative Writing: The Craft of Style
- Capstone: Your Story
Here are some more details about each course.
Course 1 – Creative Writing: The Craft of Plot
In this first course, you’ll get introduced to the plot – possibly the most elemental and often the most challenging element of the story. You will learn what keeps it going, and how it manipulates our feelings and expectations. You’ll learn how to outline it and structure it, talk about the narrative arc, pacing, reversals and how to connect the beginning, middle, and end.
Course 2 – Creative Writing: The Craft of Character
In this course, you will discover how to build complex, vivid, and unforgettable characters. You will perform exercises in order to create a variety of characters. You’ll also learn how to use your own life experiences in your characters. You will develop both inner and outer lives for your characters to make more interesting stories.
Course 3 – Creative Writing: The Craft of Setting and Description
In this third course, you will learn how masters of fiction ground a story in a concrete world. From the most realistic settings to the most fantastical, you will learn how to describe the physical world in detail and how to build credibility through research. You will also use creative meditation exercises to deepen your understanding of your story worlds so that the readers can see all that you imagine.
Course 4 – Creative Writing: The Craft of Style
In this course, you will master the art of developing your own unique voice and style. You’ll study the use of metaphor and imagery, and learn how clarity, grace, and inventiveness in word choice are crucial to a story’s success.
Course 5 – Capstone: Your Story
Everything comes together in the Capstone. You will draft a complete story, narrative essay, or memoir of 8–15 pages. With the advice of your peer readers, you will revise, rewrite, and complete it. All the skills you’ve learned in the previous four classes will culminate in an original work of art all your own. You’ll also discuss the steps that professional writers take to bring their work into the public world and learn the patient habits of revision that make up the writer’s life.
Wesleyan University is a liberal arts college in Connecticut. Maybe you haven’t heard of it, or maybe you only remember it mentioned in How I Met Your Mother. I’ve lived in NYC most of my life so of course, I know about it. I know two people who went there and both are very well educated. It’s a great school, no question. It was named after John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, but it’s now a secular private university.
Brando Skyhorse is a Visiting Writer at Wesleyan. He is a published and awarded author.
Amy Bloom is the Distinguished University Writer in Residence and Director of the Shapiro Center for Creative Writing at Wesleyan. Previously at Yale, she’s a published author and has been nominated for the National Book Award and others. Bloom has also written articles in many top periodicals in the US.
Amity Gaige is the author of three novels one of which was named one of the best books of 2013 by The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post and many others. Gaige is also the winner of a Fulbright and other fellowships. Her short stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in many leading publications.
Salvatore Scibona is the Frank B. Weeks Visiting Professor of Creative Writing. A National Book Award finalist for his novel The End, he has also been named as one of The New Yorker’s “20 Under 40: Fiction Writers to Watch”.
Coursera is a California based company started by two Stanford professors. It works with universities around the world and offers around 2,500 courses, specializations, and degrees to over 33 million students so far. It currently has six full online degree courses including the bachelor’s and master’s qualifications.
Cost and Time
Coursera has different pricing and payment scenarios and in this case, it would be paid as a monthly membership. So the faster you take your course (courses), the less it’ll cost ya. Of course, being effectively separate courses, you are under no obligation to take all of them.
Unlike some of the courses on Coursera, these courses don’t have a 7-day full access free trial. However, you can preview some course content for free.
Each course is designed to run four weeks except for the Capstone project which has a seven-week agenda. Keep in mind that while all other courses can be started and taken at any time, the Capstone runs only four times a year. So you may need to take a short break before you take your creative writing finals.
I should mention that some courses on Coursera are accredited but this one is not. At the end of this specialization, you will receive a Course Certificate. Also note that if you should later decide to attend any of Coursera’s Degree, MasterTrack, or Professional Certificate programs, there is a required ID verification. However, that is not necessary for Specializations.
Anyway, that’s a lot of information, I know! And I didn’t even go into that much detail! In a nutshell, some of the courses are a smidge weaker than others (The Craft of Character) and some are a little stronger (The Craft of Plot). But they still work well together and nothing beats this whole package in its completeness!
If you were to judge the courses by their reviews, they all kick some major butt. Here’s what some students had to say about it, one comment for each course.
Fantastic. I really have learned how to identify the structure of the plot in the stories I read, and I am now able to structure plots to my stories.
Great course that exceeded my expectations.
Favourite one so far!
I was fascinated with this course. I think it raises the bar on how to become a better writer for the reader’s sake.
It was challenging and inspiring, one of the best courses I have taken.
Yeah, that is definitely one helluva course! If this is not your complete creative writing education, I don’t know what is!
Write & Publish Your Memoir (Bundle)
An amazing bundle of nine courses for a budding writer. Four of them, which take up the bulk of the total duration, are specific to writing, and the other shorter five courses cover different business aspects that every writer will need to learn about and eventually deal with.
I found myself on CreativeLive drooling over this one amazing course on writing a memoir. It is a very specific genre, but it’s a killer course by a famous author. And that’s when I realized that they are offering a bundle that includes one more outstanding creative writing class, one more beginner writing class, one on proofreading, and five more on publishing, writing proposals, and getting an agent. Wow! Talk about going deep in what you want and wide in what you need!
Before I give you the list of all these classes, let me share with you some total numbers that took me a while to add up. This what you get in total:
- 9 courses
- 105 lessons
- 19.5 hours long
- 93,000 students attended so far
My previous suggestion on Coursera goes really deep as far as creative writing goes. But how it’s organized is not everybody’s cup of tea. Here, you have two different massive creative writing courses and a bunch of other useful valuable stuff. Here’s what the courses are:
- Writing Your Story – Joyce Maynard (5.5 hours)
- The Heart and Craft of Writing – Michelle Tea
- Proofreading Your Own Work – Heather Saunders
- How to Write a Killer Book Proposal – Sally McGraw
- How to Land a Literary Agent – Jennie Nash
- Ways of Being Published – Michelle Tea
- Build A Great Writer-Editor Relationship – Heather Saunders
- Self-Publishing for the Entrepreneur – Jennie Nash
- Wired for Story: How to Become a Story Genius – Lisa Cron (5 hours)
The first and last course on this list are the ones that I’m most interested in.
Wired for Story: How to Become a Story Genius
Lisa Cron’s course has helped thousands of aspiring writers master the unparalleled power of story so they can write a novel or memoir capable of riveting readers!
In her class, she’ll teach you:
- what it is that your readers crave in every story
- that writing a successful novel is not about talent but skills that you can learn
- how to write better first drafts, and reduce rewriting
- to become a more confident writer
- how to make your writing deeper, richer, and more compelling
Lisa’s exercises build on the exercise before it, giving you the tools to create an engrossing story from the inside out. Your goal will be to build a novel or other type of work by creating the material from which the story and the plot will organically appear.
Writing Your Story
Joyce Maynard’s course is designed to give you the tools to transform a great idea into a captivating memoir that readers won’t be able to put down.
She’ll walk you through the process of establishing your story and how best to tell it. She will help you develop it through language, structure, tension, dialogue, etc. Joyce will also address many writing challenges of writing, such as creating a productive practice, setting up your writing space, dealing with rejection and more.
In this inspiring course, you’ll learn how to:
- know what to include and what to leave out of your story
- select a point of view, a point of entry, and a structure
- get over your fears of revealing embarrassing truths about yourself
- quit worrying about being judged
- deal with loneliness and find your tribe
- develop the arcs of a sentence, a paragraph, and a story
- listen to the sound and rhythm of your sentences
I will save us some time here and assume that you can get the gist of the other courses from their titles and that you realize how valuable they are to any budding writer. Just the two courses I described above are 10.5 hours long between them and are the most important ones in this bundle.
Joyce Maynard’s career started back in 1972 while she was a Yale freshman when she got published as a New York Times Magazine cover story. She has worked as a reporter and columnist for many newspapers and magazines and still runs many workshops. Joyce is the author of seventeen books – novels and memoirs, and she’s a fellow of The MacDowell Colony and Yaddo. Some of her works have been adapted for the big screen.
Lisa Cron has worked in publishing, as an agent, as a TV producer, and as a story consultant for Warner Brothers and the William Morris Agency. She’s a UCLA instructor and on the faculty of the SVA in New York City. Lisa is a story master and works with writers, nonprofits, educators and organizations, helping them master the unparalleled power of story.
CreativeLive is a modern platform based in both Seattle and San Francisco. They’ve been around since 2010 and the “live” in their name is from the fact they do live broadcasts. They run a daily live section where you can watch a class for free every day.
Same as with Udemy, you get lifetime access to any courses you purchase. You can also stream their classes on the computer and on the phone. And more importantly for some people, you can have the courses downloaded and ready for offline viewing. They have a 30 day 100% satisfaction guarantee.
Of course, you could opt to get only Lisa’s or Joyce’s course, but the appeal of this bundle is so compelling that it would be quite difficult to say no to it. Even better – for only $50 more (currently), you can get access to ALL of their 1,500 videos for a year! Now that is the only way this already great offer could have become sweeter.
This is one mindblowing package and there’s no point in me raving about it any further. I know that if these topics connect with you at all, you will definitely heed my advice and go check it out. Enough said!
Like I said in the intro, I know that we all different amounts of time and money. Not only that, but we have diverse needs and interests. Even though this list is effectively only four items long (with lots of sub-selections), I am sure that I’ve given you more than enough to think about.
Good luck, enjoy your courses, and may your writing career be fruitful!