Enrolling in a writing course can feel like both an exciting adventure and a big investment for any writer. And, as with all great endeavors, you’ll want to make the most of it.
Many of us at Eleven have been in your shoes: excited about starting a writing course while quietly pondering how to squeeze all the goodness out of it.
That’s why we’ve compiled a list of top tips to extract maximum value from your writing course. From setting clear goals to actioning everything you’ve learned, our guide will help you ensure each moment of your course (and beyond) is meaningful.
Ready to get started? Let’s go!
Define your goals
Before your course begins, detail your goals.
For example, perhaps you’re taking a persuasive writing course because you want to sharpen your professional communication skills. Or maybe you’re looking to improve your world-building skills, refine your storytelling abilities, or gain more experience writing in a specific style or genre.
Outlining these objectives will guide your efforts and help you stay focused, making the learning experience more purposeful. This is especially important if your course covers multiple topics and skills, as many do.
Set yourself up for success by preparing well for your writing course.
Read the course syllabus as soon as you receive it, and review any additional materials, such as recommended readings or writing guides.
Also, find out how much interaction is required, the assignments you’ll need to complete (if any) and how they’ll be graded, and where the course takes place (either online or at a specific location in person).
For online courses, explore the provider’s platform and determine any technical requirements, such as browser compatibility, internet speed recommendations, and any software tools or plugins you might need to install.
Finally, if your course isn’t self-paced, review the schedule. Add important dates — such as assignment deadlines, live sessions, group discussions, etc. — to your calendar so you won’t miss them.
Tip: Familiarize yourself with your course instructor(s), too. Research their backgrounds (e.g., by checking out their professional website or LinkedIn profile), check out reviews from past students, and send them a connection request on LinkedIn. Doing so can give you insights into their teaching style and open doors for networking opportunities.
Keep an open mind
A writing course is a perfect opportunity to expand your creative horizons, so be willing to step out of your comfort zone by experimenting with different genres and styles.
For example, you might try your hand at nonfiction if you typically write fiction. Or, use a casual tone of voice if most of your writing is formal.
Additionally, be flexible with new techniques and methodologies. For example, if the course emphasizes a structured outlining process and you typically prefer freewriting, try the outlined approach and see how it influences your writing. It might get your creative juices flowing quicker or help stave off writer’s block.
Keeping an open mind also means approaching potential challenges with curiosity. Say a module involves a group writing project, but you’ve only ever written independently. Rather than resisting collaboration out of fear of the unknown, embrace the opportunity to do something new and learn from your fellow writers.
Active engagement is key to a fulfilling course experience. Ask questions, contribute your unique ideas, and participate in discussions, group activities, and other interactive elements of your writing course.
Doing this will enhance your understanding of the course material, open you up to interesting new perspectives, give you insights on improving your writing, and help you foster valuable connections with your instructor(s) and peers.
In a writing course, actively listening and taking notes can help you absorb and apply key concepts better.
Here are some quick tips to take great notes:
- Don’t copy what the instructor says verbatim. Jot down important ideas, techniques, and insights in your own words. Doing this forces your brain to engage more deeply, helping you remember the information better.
- Connect new information to your existing knowledge and experience — e.g., relating a plot structure discussed in the course to a novel you recently read or a story you’ve written.
- Note any “a-ha!” moments you have, such as realizing a more effective way to structure dialogue or a trick to write more concisely.
- Write down questions about anything that’s unclear. You can seek clarification on these later.
- Keep your notes well-organized — whether you write them digitally or physically. Highlight essential points, use color-coded tabs, or change your text’s color and format to underscore essential information. Ensure you write each module and/or lesson title at the top of your notes, too. And consider using a note-taking platform like Notion to organize and access your notes more easily. (Notion also offers tons of note templates to help you get started.)
Tip: Review your notes a day or two after each module. This will help you retain the information and catch things you didn’t fully grasp the first time.
Use your resources
Think of writing courses like a vacation at an all-inclusive resort: You’ve paid for the whole package, so use everything at your disposal to get the most bang for your buck!
Beyond the core course material, explore supplementary materials — articles, guides, recommended readings mentioned in the modules, etc. — for extra insights on topics. With online writing courses, you can also take advantage of discussion boards, online libraries, and tools such as AI-powered writing assistants (e.g., Grammarly) and writing software (e.g., Scrivener).
This will enhance your understanding of course concepts and expand your writing toolkit with additional tips and tricks.
Ask for and offer feedback
Feedback is vital to growing as a writer, so seek it from your instructor and fellow students if your course delivery and structure allow for it. Ask for their thoughts on specific areas for improvement, such as narrative pacing or descriptive language, so you can get meaningful input.
Tip: Receiving feedback can feel nerve-wracking, especially if you aren’t used to it. Remember that it’s meant to help you hone your craft, not be a personal attack, and that everyone, even seasoned writers, benefits from constructive criticism.
At the same time, be open to offering feedback to your coursemates if possible. Point out what works well in their writing and why, and suggest ideas for improvement. Also, ensure your notes are actionable.
For example, instead of saying, “This dialogue is weak,” you might suggest, “Consider showing the characters’ emotions through their actions rather than their words.” This way, the writer knows exactly how to strengthen their piece.
Engaging in these thoughtful critiques can enhance your understanding of the course’s content, benefit your fellow writers, and create a collaborative and supportive learning environment.
Tip: If you don’t have a way to contact your instructor or peers, such as if your course is conducted asynchronously, ask for feedback on your work from trusted friends, family members, or other writers.
Connect with your instructor and fellow students
Building professional relationships with your instructor(s) and peers is one of the best ways to maximize your writing course experience, as the connections you form can quickly turn into your very own writing community.
You can do this by:
- Reaching out directly via email or message. You can do this either before your course begins or anytime during it. Introduce yourself, share your goals for the course, and ask them about their writing experience.
- Chatting in your course’s discussion forums or group conversations — asking questions, sharing your thoughts, and responding to others’ ideas.
- Participating in virtual or in-person events or office hours if your course provides these. You can meet others taking the course and speak with your instructor about your progress, challenges, and successes.
- Joining online communities related to your course, such as LinkedIn or Facebook groups. These communities can help you get to know your instructor and especially your fellow writers better. They also provide a more relaxed platform for discussion and collaboration.
- Requesting to connect on LinkedIn and other social media platforms so you can stay in touch even after the course ends.
Use what you’ve learned
Gaining knowledge is only one-half of the writing course equation. The other half is putting that knowledge into practice.
During the course, you should:
- Write regularly. Set aside time after each module, whether on a scheduled or self-paced course, to write based on the concepts covered. For example, if a module explores character development techniques, you might write character sketches or scenes to reinforce the information.
- Incorporate lessons into your everyday written communication. For instance, you can apply your new knowledge in emotive writing to craft more compelling emails to your boss or clients.
- Create a “sandbox” project where you apply course concepts without reservations. Revel in the freedom that you alone will read your sandbox writing. Experiment with different genres, styles, tones of voice, sentence structures, and more to flex your new skills and knowledge!
Reflect and continue writing
Most importantly, don’t let the momentum fade once your course is complete. Here’s what to do after you wrap up your final lesson:
- Review the course materials and your notes and create a summary. Condense key concepts, exercises, and insights into a single document, organizing it by topic (such as characterization or narrative structure) or skill (such as argumentation or concision). This will give you a handy guide you can reference in the future.
- Review feedback and evaluate how your writing has developed throughout the course. What areas have you excelled in? What might you want to continue working on — e.g., crafting strong introductions, nailing plot structure, or writing compelling dialogue?
- Revise your writing. After reviewing what you wrote during the course, edit it using your new knowledge and skills. For example, you might revise marketing copy with more engaging language or incorporate anecdotes into a blog article to make it more personable. Similarly, revisit your work from before the course and rewrite it using what you’ve learned. This is a great opportunity to see just how much you’ve progressed.
- Compile a portfolio of the work you created throughout the course. Include samples from different styles or genres — such as horror and romance fiction samples or academic writing and copywriting samples — to demonstrate your versatility. You can then share this online, such as on your LinkedIn profile or personal website, for prospective employers to see.
- Establish a consistent writing practice if you don’t already have one. Devote a set amount of time each day or week to writing, focusing on implementing what you’ve learned from your course into your work.
- Decide what you want to learn next. For example, you might be interested in diving deeper into a genre you enjoyed exploring in this writing course. You could sign up for a workshop, take another course, or simply self-study through books, podcasts, and other resources.
Following these steps will ensure the insight you acquire through your writing course sticks with you for the long haul and helps you grow as a writer.
Getting the most out of your writing course involves a combination of preparation, active participation, and a commitment to continuous improvement. You must also keep an open mind, connect with your course instructor(s) and peers, and be open to giving and receiving feedback.
By following the tips outlined in this guide, you’ll have an enjoyable, rewarding experience completing your writing course.
For more ways to push yourself as a writer, check out our list of exercises to improve your skills or our guide on the best 30-day writing challenges. And be sure to sign up for Eleven’s Freelance Writing Mastery course, set to launch in early 2024.
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