Writing courses are expensive and time consuming, and it is hard to know what you are getting into before you sign up. I've taken a number of online courses through the UCLA Extension Writers Program and thought it might be helpful to share my experiences here. Since this post got really long I've split it into three sections, which I will post over the next few days.
Part 1: The Benefits of Writing Classes
One of the great things about writing classes is that they have deadlines. If you're like me you sometimes need deadlines to keep going, especially when writing gets difficult. The challenge of a deadline and a grade motivates me to do the assignments on time and put a lot of effort into them. (Note: for the Writers Program you can also do pass/fail instead of a grade.)
Another benefit of writing classes is the guidance of an experienced teacher who has insight into the writing process and the publishing industry. Many teachers will give you helpful critiques and provide you with tips, tricks, and advice to improve your writing. The best teachers will answer all of your questions on writing and publishing and encourage you to succeed. Plus, many of the exercises and readings that the teachers assign are very helpful. They can open your eyes to new techniques or ideas you would never have discovered otherwise.
By far the best thing about these classes is that they provide a forum to interact with other aspiring authors. Writing is a solitary pursuit and being in the company of other people going through the same experience can be comforting. Sometimes you just need a little camaraderie and the knowledge that others are in the same situation you are in. Also, giving critiques and receiving them is a great way to develop your writing skills. You may make new friends in these classes, and may even feel comfortable forming a critique group after the class ends.
There are many advantages to taking a writing class, and the experience can be useful for many writers who want to improve their craft. However, all of the above benefits can be flipped around and can turn a good class into a bad one. Stay tuned for part 2, where I'll talk about the downsides of writing classes.