How We Teach Writing Online

If you’re considering taking our Getting Started: Beginners’ Fiction online course, here are some useful guidelines from our online teaching partners, the Professional Writing Academy. 

We have extensive experience in teaching writing online, and we’re passionate about the importance of developing close-knit communities of supportive writers; a disciplined, productive, tightly focused group of practitioners dedicated to learning how to develop their own work by constructively criticising that of others. We’re confident this approach works, particularly for people new to writing – but because the role of the online tutor and the online learning journey may be different to what you expect, we’ve written these notes to help answer some of the questions our students often ask.

Who are the tutors?

We’re all published and practising writers. We understand the demands of the world of publishing because we work in that world week-in, week-out; and we know what you need to do as new writers in order to develop your own writing practice because we were once new writers too.

We are also experienced online teachers, working in universities in the UK, US and Middle East as well as with recreational writers. We recognise the need for accessible and enjoyable learning for writers not looking for a formal academic qualification, so we developed these courses to match the level of learning with your needs, at a pace that fits in around your day-to-day life.

How is online learning different from face-to-face learning?

An online course is a distinct experience and is not designed to replicate face-to-face learning. We know from our experience of teaching writing that online courses offer many advantages and often a faster progression than face-to-face study.

Our online courses are tightly structured, yet flexible enough to fit around your day-to-day life. The course materials are available 24 hours a day and past sessions remain open throughout the course, so that you can re-visit podcasts, videos and tutor notes whenever you need. Your work, and others’ responses to it, are archived on the site, so you can look back on your progress. Above all, you get far more individual feedback from your peers, and the chance to develop your own community of fellow writers. And, of course, you can study wherever you are in the world.

Are online creative writing courses as effective as face-to-face creative writing courses?

We find many of our best writers emerge from our online teaching, rather than face-to-face teaching. This is because online learning encourages you to develop a regular writing practice, which in turn improves your judgement and self-confidence. Our experience has shown us that this approach works, particularly for people new to creative writing.

What does my tutor do?

Your tutor devised your entire course. He or she created the structure, planned the progression of the topics (the pace of the course), and researched and wrote the materials needed to guide you from an initial idea to a well-developed start of a novel. Our tutors’ ability to do this is based on their own extensive practice as writers as well as their experience of university teaching online and face-to-face. Tutors are continually revising and developing the learning materials in the light of student responses – both in forum conversations and in the work they produce.

Why do we have to critique each other?

It’s almost impossible to edit your own work when you’re starting your writing career, but by critiquing others, you become able – over time – to turn a sharp lens on your own work and become a much better editor of your own writing. Critiquing others creates self-sufficient writers who can switch between their ‘creative’ and ‘editorial’ brains, a vital skill. Put simply, it helps you develop a keen eye for what works, and what does not.

Peer critiquing is a pedagogically sound method. We know that when students actively engage in critiquing, they learn about their own skills as a writer more quickly and soundly – because they’re actively putting those skills into practice. This is why we base our approach to teaching and learning around peer critiquing. We’ve perfected this method through the face-to-face and online university writing courses we’ve developed and taught.

The value of critiquing your peers will become increasingly apparent as you work through the sessions, but it includes receiving thoughtful individual feedback to every exercise you do, becoming part of a close-knit group of fellow writers you can trust to give honest and insightful critiques, and feeling supported through common writing hurdles, from lack of time to writer’s block.

And while you can’t take your tutor with you after the course, you can take this group of supportive peers. Many of our alumni are still ‘meeting’ virtually to share their work many years after completing their original online creative writing course.

Why is it useful to look at other people’s feedback as well as my own?

It’s extremely valuable to read feedback for fellow participants. The points raised will inevitably be relevant to your own writing: if not now, then in the future. And since all feedback is available to everyone and is archived on the site, it’s easy to look back whenever you need to find tips that you can apply to your own work.

Don’t you get more feedback in face-to-face teaching?

In most face-to-face courses tutors don’t give any written or recorded feedback. Though the tutor sits in on workshops, he or she does not lead the discussion, but rather chairs it. Our online creative writing courses ensure that you receive personalised detailed feedback (from your fellow writers) on your work in every session and on every writing exercise, as well as on longer pieces of writing you develop. All this feedback is archived on the site, so you can refer to it over and again as you progress through the course.

Can I have tutor feedback?

We’ve built in exactly the right amount of peer feedback you need to progress through the course and achieve your writing goals. And, perhaps more importantly, to continue developing as a writer once you leave the course. We’ve based this on our experience of teaching writing online at all levels, from recreational courses to Masters programmes.

Within academic circles there is continuing debate about tutor feedback – there’s a fine line between making someone dependent on their tutors and giving them the confidence and competence they need effectively to judge their own work. Your tutor is guiding you towards an independent writing practice. You learn by following the exercises he or she has devised, by writing according to the prompts set, by reading as directed, and by responding to the work of your fellow participants and being critiqued in return.

If you’d like to work one-to-one with a tutor, you might consider a mentoring scheme. This is where we pair you with an author, writing tutor or literary editor working in your genre or field of writing. This option is most appropriate if you’ve completed one of our longer courses, which equip you with the skills and daily practice required to work at a more advanced level. Do get in touch if you’d like to discuss this option.