I’ve been teaching online writing courses for about six years and I love it. Bringing together writers from diverse backgrounds all around the world to exchange ideas and expand their skills is a tremendous opportunity for all. If you’re interested in taking an online writing course, but you’re a bit nervous, here are six tips to get the most from the experience:

1. Get Ready

Being prepared is important for any class, but it’s especially important for an online class with no in-person meetings to serve as reminders. Before class starts:

  • Check in before the official start date, if possible. Your instructor may have posted suggested reading or writing to give you a jump start.
  • Read the syllabus carefully to get a sense of what topics and exercises are coming.
  • Make a few notes. If you have any questions or challenges in a particular area, mention them when that topic comes up.
  • Create a special folder on your computer. You’ll probably receive documents with lessons, exercises, and readings. Have a spot where you can access them quickly and easily.

And this may be the most important thing you can do:

  • Set aside time for the class. Usually the syllabus will advise how much time you can expect to spend each week. One of the best aspects of online learning is the ability to fit assignments into your schedule, but it can also cause you to scramble at the last minute. Take time now, before the class begins, to figure out what will work for you. Late at night after the kids are asleep? Early in the morning before the day gets going? During lunch breaks?

2. Think Like Magellan

Familiarize yourself with the navigation tools in the online classroom. I’ve worked with several different class portals. Some are intuitive and some are…less so. How are the lessons organized? Where are the links for each session? What do the icons mean? If this is a workshop, where do you post your work or comment on others’ work? How do you contact someone for help if you need it? A few minutes up front can save frustration at 11 p.m. when you have a deadline for an assignment.

3. Consider Your Expectations

During the first week, I ask students to think about what they hope to get out of the course and make sure they’re in line with the course objectives. If you hope to complete a short story and this course teaches basic writing skills, you may need to rethink your goals. Set your personal writing intentions and objectives so you can work toward them.

Online Writing Classes

4. Communicate

Your fellow writers and, most importantly, your instructor are there to help you. If an assignment is unclear, you can’t locate a document or you need clarification, reach out. There is no need to sit in frustration. Help is a click away. As I always say, no question is too big or too small!

5. Recap

Most online writing courses provide lessons and excerpts as downloadable links. Think about how you like to learn. Maybe printing out the documents will help you retain the information. Or reading them aloud. Or taking notes in your notebook. Or highlighting important details. Or writing key summaries. Do what works best for you.

6. Put Your Toe in the Water

Yes, sharing your work, expressing your opinions or asking questions in an online classroom can be daunting, but interacting creates a richer experience for you and your classmates. We’re all in this together, and we’re all there to learn from each other. I include myself here—every time I teach a writing class, I learn too!

Don’t hold back. We want to hear your voice. If you’re nervous about sharing, here are a few ways to put your toe in the water:

  • Start by introducing yourself to your fellow writers. A few sentences about where you’re from, your hobbies, and the fact that you love key lime pie (okay, that’s me) go a long way to establishing a connection with the group.
  • Challenge yourself to leave a comment on someone else’s post, even if it’s just to say, “I agree.”
  • Ask a question. You may not feel comfortable offering feedback on someone’s story or a critique on a published work, so ask a question instead. “Why did you decide to set your story in Dallas?” Or, “Where did you get your idea for this story?” It may lead to an interesting discussion.
  • Brainstorm with fellow writers. Developing a give-and-take by exchanging ideas is a valuable contribution to the discussion.
  • Give examples. Use instances from your own experience to connect with the stories or lesson. What has worked for you? Do you have any suggestions? Have you used resources the group may benefit from? In one of the classes I taught recently, a student told us how she got back into her writing habits after the birth of her first baby. It was useful information and helped a number of her classmates.

Real people are on the other side of the posts, and the more you open yourself to conversation, the more you learn and the more you grow as a writer.


If you’re ready to take the plunge, I’m teaching two online classes through The Loft Literary Center. I’d love to see you there! Registration is open now.


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