Writing is hard. That’s the first thing you find out when you join writing club. And because it’s hard, new writers are always looking for quick fixes. Don’t worry, we’ve all done it. Fortunately, there are
lots of people and organisations offering quick fixes that could just be the thing that helps you get your novel finished and published – or not. The most expensive ones come in the form of courses, workshops and retreats. Unfortunately, some of them are just thinly veiled money-making exercises.
Over the past year or so, I’ve seen writing courses pop up all over the place, offered by big names in publishing and the media. I was shocked to see the price of one of these courses and then flabbergasted, when I realised it was just an online course with no one-on-one tuition. The fact that two huge and household names were associated with the course only made it worse. It seems to me, that choosing a writing course is a bit of a minefield. Writers could find themselves a lot poorer, without much to show for it.
If you can’t afford a course, just keep writing.
Here’s my guide to avoiding rip-off writing courses:
- Set a budget: buying a ‘how to write’ book is one thing, but forking out hundreds or sometimes more on a writing course needs consideration. Don’t throw money at writing, in the hope that it’s the secret to becoming a writer. By all means invest in your chosen occupation, but that means time and energy, not just money. Spend what you can afford, rather than risking debt for a highly competitive industry that doesn’t promise much return.
- Reputation: look for a course or organisation that has a good reputation. However, watch out for big names selling a piece of string and promising the moon on a stick, all with a hefty price tag. Do some research. Often, the best courses have funding available, as they’re not really in it for the cash.
- Have a goal: what do you want out of the course? If you’ve been writing for a while, maybe you need tutor feedback to get you through a sticky middle. Or you’re a beginner and would find group work useful. Look for courses that are focused and provide a goal, whether it’s getting an outline finished, producing a project by the end of the week or whatever it might be. Make sure it’s an attainable goal and not the old ‘moon on a stick’ rearing it’s ugly head to part you from your cash again.
- The hook: famous authors and the promise of a Q&A with an agent or publisher are usually the tasty morsel dangled before would be writing course attendees. These are great, but don’t be dazzled by big names. They often don’t have much time, so it may not be the best part of the course – from experience I’d say, the people or ‘networking’ opportunities with other attendees, plus tutorials are the most precious aspects. Look for workshops that focus on these features, rather than just using celebrities to draw you in. However, if said celebrities offer something like reading and feedback on your first chapter, this is good value.
- Residential or non-residential: I know what you’re thinking – I don’t fancy living with 12 strangers for two weeks. They could be intolerable. I’ll stick to one that doesn’t involve close, human contact thanks. I’ve done both a residential course and day workshops or retreats. Both have their bonuses, but I’d say the residential course was a fantastic experience. I’ve made lifelong friends and contacts and I learnt so much more because I was living and breathing writing, day and night, for five days. If you can afford residential, try it, if not, shorter workshops can also be great.
- Location: you can attend writing courses all over the world and if you want to make a holiday of it, why not head to New England for a week of secluded writing. However, Tuscany won’t make you a better writer. Quality tuition in Bolton, will get you further and cost you less. Don’t be swayed by a pretty locale alone, if what you really want is serious writing tuition and guidance.
- Look for free stuff: If you can’t afford fancy courses, look for adult evening classes or events in your local library. Also try a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). They are free courses, which are operated online, often associated with respected universities. You simply sign up and follow along with the video tutorials and then post your work up on the community pages. I did one for interactive storytelling and it was very interesting and fun.
If you’re looking for a writing course or workshop, watch out for the sharks. There are courses profiting on the dreams and aspirations of wannabe writers, so do some research before you sink hard cash into these promises. Even if you pay for the best course, you’ll still have to do the hard bit – writing. At the end of the day, it’s down to you.
My personal recommendation is the Arvon Foundation, if you can afford it or get funding . The funding runs out quickly, so plan ahead. And only apply for funding, if you really can’t afford the course, otherwise you’re just taking potential funding from someone who genuinely couldn’t attend without it. I did a ‘writing for games’ course, with Arvon, last year and it was worth every penny
Obviously, if you can’t afford a course, just keep writing – you’ll still get there.