The Best Online Writing Courses
Updated August 17, 2022
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Online writing courses provide a convenient option for individuals looking to develop their written communication skills. Free writing courses are even more appealing to aspiring and active writers.
Free online writing courses offer the affordability and flexibility to allow you to write at your own pace without the pressures of paying fees. Whether you want to teach yourself to write more effectively, learn a new genre of writing, or find communities of fellow writers, online writing courses have a lot to offer.
Writing courses online provide opportunities for individuals to develop their grammar, storytelling, editing, and communication skills. Business professionals, freelancers, and journalists can take online writing courses to improve their persuasive writing abilities.
Free writing courses in scientific and medical writing can benefit students, educators, and practitioners. Non-native English language speakers often take online writing classes to learn English grammar, sentence structure, and writing conventions.
What to Expect From an Online Writing Course
Online writing courses vary in topic, level, length, and format. Introductory courses require no previous experience, making them ideal for beginners looking to learn more about the writing process.
These classes also allow active writers to revisit writing fundamentals while continuing to develop their abilities. Advanced writing courses online may focus on a specific genre, skill, or style and may require previous writing experience.
Some online writing courses are self-taught, while others include real-time instruction. There may or may not be homework, depending on the type of course and its length. Students may receive feedback from their peers and instructors, as well.
Five Free Online Writing Courses
If you want to know more about writing and the writing process, you can take any of the following free online writing courses. Free online courses in writing offer learners a chance to explore aspects of writing on their own time and provide a great option for working professionals and individuals with busy schedules.
Without the pressures of due dates and expenses, free online courses can help aspiring writers develop their skills while helping them decide if they want to pursue degrees in the field. Writing professionals can take online writing courses when they need to refresh their abilities, learn a new genre or style of writing, and keep up with changes in writing conventions and technologies.
Study.com: Developmental Writing
Study.com's developmental writing course reviews English language essentials to improve writing and communication skills. Students watch short video lessons and quiz themselves. The coursework is self-paced.
The developmental writing course includes 100 lessons, with each session lasting eight minutes on average. Enrollees learn to identify nouns and pronouns, verbs, and other parts of speech. After a chapter on punctuation and writing mechanics, students work through the writing process while developing essays for narrative, persuasive, expository, and business purposes. Students can also take practice exams throughout the course.
Individuals planning to take exams for college credit can benefit from Study.com's course. Each student earns a certificate of completion at the end of the class. Learners can access Study.com for free for one month.
Skillshare: Creative Writing
Skillshare has extensive course offerings, including a class in creative writing. Learners create projects, share their work with others, and collaborate with classmates to develop their writing skills.
Led by experienced and passionate creators, the class in creative writing meets the needs of individuals who want to explore their passion for writing. The course also opens opportunities to write as a job and advance current writing abilities.
Finding specifics without signing up for Skillshare is difficult. The site offers one month free and has millions of members in its creative community.
edX: Business Writing Techniques
With information on best practices in business writing, edX's business writing techniques class focuses on clear and concise business communication. The course also emphasizes complete, courteous, and constructive communication for business settings.
Students watch videos to complete the four-week class at their own pace. Enrollees learn the parts of a business letter and complete 5-8 hours of work each week. Debora Sepich from Doane University teaches the course.
The class maintains an association with edX's MicroBachelor's Program. Students who pay can take two more classes to complete the MicroBachelor's Program and apply the coursework as academic credit to their transcripts. Students who take the course for free audit the course and do not recieve credit.
Future Learn: Start Fiction Writing
This fiction writing course offered by Future Learn spans eight weeks, but free access ends after five weeks. Learners study roughly three hours each week to explore approaches and processes for writing fiction. Topics include creating characters, presenting and developing characters in stories, and reading as a writer.
Future Learn's fiction writing course introduces students to the fundamentals of the craft and grows communities of writers. Feedback and interaction with peers provide insight as individuals learn more about their own writing styles, skills, and interests. The course is taught by established writers and is geared towards the needs of individuals interested in entering and improving their fictional writing.
The course includes opportunities to practice writing, develop editing skills, participate in peer reviews, and collaborate in workshops. This program does not have experience requirements, but enrollees should be at least 16 years old due to the potential for mature content.
University of Michigan: Writing and Editing
UM offers writing and editing courses on Coursera. The classes focus on strategies and techniques for effective word use. Practical projects accompany video lectures.
While the writing and editing program comprises four total courses, students can take just one class to find out if they have an interest in taking the three remaining courses. Courses include word choice and word order, structure and organization, drafting, and revising. Each course is taught by Patrick Barry from the UM Law School.
Individuals complete the program in about four months. To take the writing and editing courses for free, individuals must audit rather than earn a certificate of completion. Students do not need experience to take these writing and editing classes.
Using Online Writing Courses to Advance Your Learning
Online writing courses can increase your existing knowledge and skills for personal, educational, and professional purposes. An online writing course can fill in gaps that a college degree or professional training left open, allowing learners to catch up with their peers. Online writing courses also provide essential information about resume writing and writing for specific audiences and purposes.
Online writing courses supplement degrees in the natural sciences, building writing abilities not always covered in biology, engineering, or chemistry degrees. Individuals curious about whether or not they should pursue writing degrees can also take free online courses to get a feel for the coursework in undergraduate or graduate degrees in writing.
Very few careers and jobs do not require writing skills. Business professionals, educators, journalists, and government workers need to possess effective writing skills. By developing sentence construction, content creation, and revising and editing abilities, students increase their opportunities to work across economic sectors.
Specific jobs like administrative assistant, freelance writer, public relations specialist, and media manager all require strong writing skills. These professionals demonstrate the need for a strong grasp of writing at all career levels. Writing courses help students get a leg up on introductory writing positions, while existing writers can advance their skills and adapt to changes in the industry.
Succeeding in an Online Writing Course
It's important to have the right software and resources to succeed in online writing courses. At the very least, you will need:
- A reliable computer.
- A reliable internet connection.
- A quiet place to work.
- A way to take notes and write.
Students should check that they have up-to-date word processing programs and any other required software. Visiting a library, completing online research, and dedicating time and energy are important to completing an online writing course.
Before enrolling, learners need to have a grasp of the course format. Asynchronous classes allow individuals to complete coursework on their own time, while synchronous classes require students to log on at specific times.
Ask an Online Writing Expert
Emily Stoddard is a writer, workshop leader, and affiliate of the Amherst Writers & Artists Method. Her writing appears in Tupelo Quarterly, Ruminate, Radar, The Manifest-Station, Cold Mountain Review, Whitefish Review, and elsewhere. She is the founder of Voice & Vessel, a studio that supports fellow writers with online workshops and guided creative practice. Over 600 writers around the world are part of the studio's Hummingbird Sessions — free pop-up writing sessions designed to find new creative energy in the midst of uncertain, pandemic times.
Preferred Pronouns: she/her
Can students sharpen their writing skills in an online course?
Yes, online courses and writing workshops can help writers and the writing-curious connect with their creative instincts, build confidence in their voice on the page, and deepen their understanding of the craft of writing. In that sense, online courses are just as powerful as in-person learning about writing — but there's another aspect that I think makes online courses especially meaningful.
An important part of becoming a stronger writer is learning how to stay with ourselves throughout the creative process. In other words: How will you befriend your instincts, instead of doubting them? How will you navigate the inevitable ebbs and flows of a project?
This is where online courses and workshops offer something different than one-time retreats or even the occasional writing group. Online workshops can be a part of your everyday life in a way that few other writing experiences can be.
Unlike retreats, which are often designed for "break away," I think of online workshops as a "weaving in." I try to design exercises and hands-on tools that get people energized to write and learn how to give their writing a simple, steady space in their lives.
I'm always aware that the writers in my circle might be writing at the same table where they just finished eating dinner. Some folks might say that makes an online workshop tougher, but I think it's great training. The reality is, there are many days when your writing will need to happen in the space after dinner or before a meeting.
For most people, retreats and long stretches of creative support will be few and far between. If you're feeling hungry for steady creative growth, online learning can be an ideal way to learn and challenge yourself.
What kind of writing is best suited for online education?
There's an incredible range of online writing courses and workshops. If you want to focus on a certain technique, such as poetry and metaphor, you can find a workshop devoted to that. If you want something more open-ended and generative, there are plenty of workshops with many different formats — everything from pop-up sessions, like the Hummingbird Sessions I lead, to multi-week, small-group workshops where writers are encouraged to share their new work with each other.
In addition to leading workshops, I've also taken a number of different courses and workshops, from intensive online courses with Stanford Continuing Studies to generative workshops like the kind hosted by the Amherst Writers & Artists community that I belong to.
With the pandemic, the options have only gotten more diverse as more talented workshop leaders start sharing online. I feel like it's an exciting time for online writing communities and online learning in general.
How can students make the most of an online writing course?
Before you search for or decide on a course, reflect on the creative season you're in or the curiosity that's truly driving your learning now. Sometimes writers choose a course based on a juicy goal a teacher promises (bestseller in a weekend!) or an idea of the "type" of writer they think they have to be.
If you want to build your writing skills, a solid workshop will emphasize the practice of writing rather than broad strokes about what it means to be a writer. I encourage writers to tune into their own creative questions, the memories or ideas that are calling for their attention, and the unknowns where they feel most excited to stretch.
If you're curious and excited to learn, breakthroughs are possible. If you choose a course based on an abstract promise or because you think you "should" write a certain way, it can be harder to stick with it and tap into your unique writing strengths.
One more way to get the most out of online courses is to aim for a mix of generative writing workshops and technique-focused workshops.
In a generative writing course, you'll be creating new writing, potentially exploring different forms of writing, and likely writing with prompts or exercises from the leader. Sharing your work with a group may not happen at all in these workshops, or it might be optional.
In a technique- or feedback-driven workshop, you'll be going deeper with the craft of writing, likely in a specific form, such as poetry, nonfiction, or fiction. The exercises might be designed to help you revise your existing writing, rather than create new pieces. You might also share your work and give feedback to other writers in the course.
In my personal writing practice, I love mixing up these two styles of writing courses. It means I always have fresh projects and ideas brewing while I continue to revise and complete other pieces.
Taking workshops in different forms of writing also helps keep a sense of surprise in the process. You'll be meeting new aspects of your voice and getting new ways to overcome doubt or resistance as you write more and more.
What writing skills are the most valuable to hone for a beginner, intermediate, and advanced writer?
No matter the level of writer you are, I believe learning how to become a more honest and generous companion to your own voice is essential. I think this is part of the lifelong journey for any writer or artist. I know it sounds like a big idea, but I keep finding ways to break it down into specific skills and hands-on practices. Some of those include:
- Starting a practice of field notes for yourself as you write. I share specific questions with my writers to help them take field notes more consistently and meaningfully.
- Learning how to return to your rough writing with curiosity instead of criticism. A good writing instructor or workshop leader will not only give you practices for this — they will model it in how they listen to your work.
- Using guiding questions and tools to give yourself feedback and find a sense of direction in your drafts. Rough drafts can be a murky space, especially for beginning or intermediate writers. I share specific techniques with writers in my circle, to demystify the process and help them turn raw material into finished pieces.
These are skills that feed a writer's practice no matter how long they've written. They're also valuable because they only get stronger with practice and time, and they tend to help folks listen more creatively even in areas outside of writing. They're lifelong skills.
And in those times when you can't get to a retreat or take a course, they're the kinds of skills that will pull you back to the page and help you figure out what to try next with your writing.
Frequently Asked Questions About Online Writing Courses
What Is the Best Free Online Writing Course?
The best free online writing course aligns with your experience and goals. If you want to start writing, consider an introductory course. Active writers can benefit from refresher courses and advanced classes.
How Can I Learn to Write Online?
Online writing classes can teach you writing fundamentals and advanced skills to communicate effectively. Courses include video instruction, activities, and interactive exercises to help you learn to write.
How Can I Learn Creative Writing for Free?
Free online writing courses teach students the fundamentals of plot and character development, storytelling, and other literary devices used in creative writing. Many online learning platforms, such as Coursera and edX, provide free writing course options.
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