As an aspiring writer, one of the best questions you can ask yourself is, What courses to take to become a writer? The answer may not exactly be obvious or simple but the mere act of asking signals that you are on the right path of understanding and growth.
One of my favorite quotes about writing comes, no surprise here, from Stephen King himself: “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”
There are no required courses to become a writer, much less a successful one. Some of the most popular and best-selling authors of all time never took an official writing course or class. Some of them did. Everyone’s journey is a bit different but there are many helpful courses to accelerate your writing skill, your business acumen, and your long-term successful career as a writer.
While taking courses might not be necceary to become a writer, taking courses may be necessary (or super helpful) for you. Everyone’s journey to ultimate success as an author is personal and unique.
What Courses to Take to Become a Writer: Quick Self Assessment
The first step is figuring out what makes the most sense for you. To find out what courses to take to become a writer, ask yourself the following set of questions: ( I highly encourage you to write the answers to these questions down on a physical piece of paper that you can keep for review)
- What phase of my writing career am I in? (beginner, intermediate, expert/pro). To help you decide which phase you might be in, below are a few common milestones from each stage of writing. The descriptions are not perfect but they should help you pinpoint close to where you might be at this moment. Odds are, if you are reading this article, you are likely in the beginner or intermediate stage. It only goes up from here!
- Beginner (unpublished, 0-3 years of experience, 0-$100 of writing income)
- Intermediate (some published credits, 3-10 years of experience, $100-$3,000 of total writing income)
- Pro (many published credits, 10+ years of experience, full time writer, $3,000 + of recurring writing income probably from multiple sources)
- What are my strengths as a writer? Your strengths might be your writing skills, your marketing skills, your network (who you know) or your experience.
- What areas do I need to grow in as a writer? Your growth areas (or current weaknesses) reveal where you might want to focus. Your growth areas might be in writing skills, understanding how to get published, marketing your writing or setting up your freelance writing business.
- What is my ultimate goal as a writer? Your destination determines your path. You might want to get your ideas out into the world, get published or launch a full-time writing career. Whatever it is, write it down.
Ok, now that you have completed the quick self-assessment, you probably have a much clearer grasp on where you are now, your skill or information gaps (growth areas) and where you ultimately want to go. This is highly valuable information that can help you decide what courses, if any, to take to become a writer.
As we go through the different degrees and courses you might want to consider, I’ll mention what I think might be best for each writing stage and writing goal.
College or University: What courses to take to become a writer
What degree do I need to become a writer? What should an aspiring author major in? These are the questions aspiring authors often ask themselves.
You don’t need a specific course or degree to become a writer. A degree, however, can be helpful. After all, Stephen King, Dean Koontz and many other mega successful authors earned an official degree in English, journalism or literary arts.
Just as many (and maybe even more) popular and best-selling novelists either didn’t pursue a degree or earned a degree completely unrelated to writing.
- J.K. Rowling studied French
- Michael Crichton studied biological anthropology
- John grisham studied accounting and law
- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. studied chemistry and engineering
- Noah Sparks went into pharmaceutical sales
- James Patterson studied marketing and business
Are Writing Courses Worth it?
Before we dive into specific university and online courses, let’s look at the overall pros and cons of taking any course to become a writer.
The pros of taking any course to become a writer
- Shortens your learning curve
- Exposes you to great writing
- Surrounds you with like-minded passionate writers
- Challenges you to write more often and consistently
- Provides professor and peer feedback about your strengths and weaknesses as a writer
- Connects you with a network of both aspiring and published authors
The cons of taking courses to become a writer
- You can spend years and a whole lot of money with no guarantee of success
- You can develop bad writing habits but don’t help you succeed in mainstream publishing
- You can become a literary snob (harsh, but true)
- You can lack real life and real world experience that can hold you back from better and deeper writing
Are writing courses worth it? The final answer depends on your current experience, goals and the preferred path you want to take. I believe writing courses can be more than worth it if you choose the right one for you paired with an insatiable hunger to continuously improve your craft.
The Best University Courses to Take to Become a Writer
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular university courses to take to become a writer. These courses can help accelerate your growth and shortcut the time it takes you to reach your writing goals. This section of the post will help you answer the question, What is the best degree for aspiring authors?
- English or literature: These courses can expose you to the evolution of effective narrative. You’ll study the classics, Shakespeare and develop a framework for compelling stories. In these degrees, you will get experience writing short stories, poetry and reports. You will also analyze writing.
- Creative Writing: These courses will teach you the overall story outlining or plotting process, how to come up with story ideas and everything you need to know about each part of an effective story (character, setting, conflict, story arcs, etc). You will get experience writing poetry and short stories.
- Journalism: This degree will teach you to write well and quickly with clarity and conciseness. You will learn to be detailed and to produce regular content. These are all useful habits for the professional writer.
- Master of Fine Arts (MFA): This master’s degree will help you hone in on a specific area of writing such as screenplays, novels or digital cinema production.
- Pursuing an MFA in Modern or Popular fiction is probably the most helpful degreed course for becoming a successful and popular author in today’s market. You not only learn the elements of compelling fiction, you also learn how to apply those elements to today’s audience.
- You’ll learn about immediate tension, pace and plotting to maintain the reader’s interest while also advancing the story. You’ll learn about mixing dialogue with action and developing scenes with emotional depth.
Big List of Great Writing Schools, Colleges and Universities
If you want to look into earning a degree from a college or university, start your search by checking out these recognized schools offering great writing programs. This is not an exhaustive list, but it includes many of the most popular schools with esteemed writing programs.
Before you commit to a school, perform due diligence by researching these schools for the best personal fit for your current and future goals as a writer.
- Northwestern University
- Emerson College
- Wesleyan University
- Columbia University
- University of Iowa
- University of Notre Dame
- Cornell University
- University of Michigan
- New York University
- John Hopkins University
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology (depending on the type of writing you want to pursue)
- University of Nottingham, England
- University of Reading, England
As you think about these schools, keep in mind the following helpful criteria:
- Is this an accredited institution?
- Is this a large school or smaller school?
- What kind of writing are they best known for? (creative, literary, nonfiction, etc.)
- How much is tuition?
- Do they offer flexible schedules for adults with full-time day jobs?
- Do they offer online education and learning?
- Are the professors published authors?
- How many published, successful authors have they produced in the past 1-3 years?
- What networks and resources do they offer to connect you with literary agents and publishers?
- How much support do they provide alumni?
Of course, even if you don’t attend an accredited school, there are many good courses on writing available online. Degreed courses might fit into your lifestyle best if you are young, just beginning out and have the time and resources to pursue higher education.
But traditional school isn’t for everyone.
Many beginner, intermediate and even advanced writers regularly take online writing courses to enhance their skills, fill an information gap and build their writing careers.
Best Online Courses to Take to Become a Writer (Or a Better Writer)
As I was getting serious about my own writing career, I searched around for the best courses I could find online. I wanted to reach my goals faster but I knew I had a lot to learn. The courses below are what I found to be the most helpful.
Some of these courses are expensive, some are cheap and at least one is free. When putting together the list, I was more interested in quality than price.
The MasterClass courses on writing are some of the very best in the world. First of all, they are taught by current bestselling authors such as James Patterson, David Sedaris, Dan Brown, Malcolm Gladwell, Shonda Rhimes, Judy Blume and more. You won’t find better writing teachers with more practical experience anywhere on the planet.
MasterClass courses offer these features:
- Bestselling authors and writers as teachers
- Downloadable content to watch offline anytime
- PDF workbooks for every class
- Hours of exclusive content, detailed lessons and practical advice
Cost: $15 per month/billed annually.
For great courses on a budget, Udemy is hard to beat. Most of these courses are deeply discounted for under $13. And, yes, they can be very good.
Here are two other Udemy courses worth noting:
Nonfiction Writing Courses
This course by bestselling author Joanna Penn covers everything from coming up with your idea to marketing your completed nonfiction book. This course offers 5 modules: Before You Write: Mindset, Before You Write: Business, Writing and Editing Your Book, Publishing and Product Creation and Marketing Non-fiction Books.
Cost: $297 (with several flexible payment options)
More than a mere course, this is a community where you can learn how to take an idea for a book and make it a self-published bestseller. The course covers how to come up with a winning idea, write the book, format the book, find a book cover, self-publish and launch the book and market the book.
Cost: $6,997 (super expensive for sure but something to consider when your income reaches a certain point)
Get Published: Query Letter Writing
If you want to get traditionally published, you need a query letter. A query letter is a one-page letter that introduces you and your book to a literary agent. Literary agents, in turn, connect authors with publishers.
Even if you plan to self-publish, learning how to pitch your story (sometimes called a book description or blurb) is indispensable.
Here’s What to Expect:
- 5 emails jam-packed with the best query secrets sent over the next five days
- Breakthrough, specific and proven tactics that you can put to use TODAY
- Insider shortcuts on writing a bestseller query letter
- Next level query secrets you won’t find anywhere else
- Zero rehash of what you can find a million other places online
- Zero fluff or filler
Here’s the Breakdown of the Lessons in the Course:
Lesson #1: Secret Structure of a Bestseller Query Letter
Lesson #2: The Number ONE Way to Easily Master Query Letters In Record Time With Zero Experience
Lesson #3: The PAS Formula for Writing the Perfect Pitch
Lesson #4: The Movie Trailer Method
Lesson #5: Summary and Conclusion (with exclusive bonuses)
So as a quick recap, what courses to take to become a writer depends on your experience, skill level and resources. You don’t have to take any courses, but there are many excellent courses to shorten your learning curve and to accelerate your transition into full-time income as a writer.
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