Evaluating the Value of Writing Courses and Seminars for Authors
This is a summary article that broadly covers a complex topic – for more specific advice, please ask inside the Colony.
For aspiring authors, the journey towards honing their writing skills can take various paths.
Most writers have at some point considered taking a writing course or seminar, whether online or real-world. Such programs often come with a hefty price tag and are sometimes run as a profit-generating branch of a publishing company or literary agency.
Do these programs offer good value when compared to more traditional methods of learning the craft?
Let’s examine the benefits and drawbacks of each approach.
Writing courses and seminars are typically led by already-published authors, independent editors, publishing houses or sometimes by literary agents. These programs often promise to provide intensive learning experiences, personalized feedback, and networking opportunities. Here’s what you should expect from programs such as these:
- Expert Guidance: One of the primary advantages of paid courses and seminars is the opportunity to learn directly from established authors or publishing personnel who have in-depth knowledge of the craft. Their guidance and feedback can help authors refine their skills, strengthen their writing techniques, and gain industry insights.
- Structured Curriculum: Writing courses usually provide a structured learning path, covering various aspects of writing such as character development, plot construction, dialogue, and editing. This systematic approach can be advantageous for authors who prefer a guided learning experience.
- Personalized Feedback: Paid programs generally offer individualized feedback on students’ work, providing specific suggestions for improvement. This personalized attention can accelerate an author’s growth by identifying areas of weakness and therefore helping them overcome challenges.
- Networking Opportunities: Writing courses and seminars frequently promise the opportunity to make direct contact with editors, publishers and literary agents. Networking within these circles may lead to valuable connections, support, and even publishing opportunities.
However, years of feedback from writers in the Colony suggest there are often significant drawbacks, too.
- Financial Cost: The most obvious drawback is the significant financial investment required: several hundreds or even thousands of dollars or pounds is not unusual. This high price tag can be a barrier for many aspiring authors, especially those on a limited budget or just starting their writing careers.
- Limited Flexibility: Paid programs are likely to have a predetermined schedule, a fixed duration, and an urban location. This lack of flexibility may pose challenges for authors with work or family commitments or those living a long distance from the venue.
- Quality Variation: Not all expensive writing courses and seminars are created equal. The quality of instruction can vary widely, and some programs may not deliver on their promises. Thorough research and careful consideration are necessary to ensure the chosen program aligns with an author’s specific needs and goals.
- Unsatisfactory Outcome: The combined pressures of money, time and high-intensity effort – all squeezed into a very finite experience – can leave authors feeling they are no further forward in their journey toward success. They have probably acquired a course certificate but on their return to writing at home, by themselves, they sometimes feel they have not gained competence in key areas or that what they have been taught is stifling and does not support their unique writing voice.
It is no wonder, then, that many authors are using alternative resources.
In an era of abundant information, authors have access to a wealth of resources that often are available at little or no cost. These alternatives, such as books on writing, video discussions and participation in writing communities can provide valuable insights and feedback without the financial burden.
For instance, Litopia – the oldest writers’ community on the internet – doesn’t run expensive writing courses or seminars. This congenial colony of writers believes that positive participation in writing communities is a better, more cost-effective alternative to most of the commercial courses now on offer.
Litopia and other such communities offer platforms for authors to share their work, receive constructive feedback, and engage in discussions with fellow writers. They attract members from around the world, working in every genre. These communities are there for them 24/7, giving authors the freedom to work when it suits them. The collective knowledge and support provided by communities of writers can contribute significantly to an author’s growth and professional accomplishment.
So, should you take the plunge and pay for a writing course?
One view is that publishers and literary agencies too often see the provision of writing courses simply as a way of generating more revenue. They no longer seem motivated to discover and cultivate new authors, as was once their practice. Writing courses are a very recent invention and, despite the hype, they are not a fast-track to publication for the vast majority of writers who pay for them.
For most of recorded history, writers have learnt their craft (a) from other writers and (b) simply by doing it. This time-honored method builds confidence and mastery. A writer who continues to learn through creative, focused practice matures into their craft and becomes a life-long writer.
This is a broad overview of a dynamic topic: for specific help and encouragement at every stage of your writing life, join the Colony!