Orientation Guide: CWN Fiction Course, Course Plan and Creative Writing Assignments

This is your handbook for the CWN free online writing courses, the creative writing assignments you should complete for each class, and some important tips to get the most out of the courses.

(If you're a creative writing teacher, please visit the CWN teaching page for additional creative writing activities and guidelines on using these materials in your own classroom.)

First of all, congratulations on signing up for the course! You're about to grow as a writer. If you follow the course lessons and creative writing assignments carefully, you can achieve the next level in your fiction writing.

10-minute writing assignments

Most classes include a 10-minute writing assignment. Set an alarm on your cell phone, or just note down the starting time, and then go. The point here is to write something. It doesn't have to look nice. It doesn't have to be "your style" of writing. You don't have to finish it. You don't have to have a beginning -- you can start in the middle if you want. Then you can decide if you want to go back later and turn into into a story.

Some classes include additional creative writing assignments which are labeled "optional." Complete these if you feel like it, if you have time to write for more than ten minutes.

Writing Goals Worksheet

You will use the Goals Worksheet to set your homework for the next class. Follow the instructions on the Worksheet page.

Goals should be realistic, be measurable, and be under your control. "Write a masterpiece" is not an appropriate goal for this worksheet because there is no objective way to measure if you've achieved it, and because it depends on more than your effort.

Here are some suggestions for goals you could set:

  • To write a certain number of days per week, a certain number of minutes per day.
  • To read something related to your creative writing assignments.
  • To try something new in your writing, for example, to use a particular technique you haven't tried before.
  • To continue with one of the 10-minute creative writing assignments, or to try it again from a different perspective.

Even if you're more interested in writing novels than short stories, you should focus on stories for the course assignments. This will allow you try a variety of techniques. And the skills you develop will improve your novel-writing.


Reading is an essential part of learning to write. Since you will be writing short fiction for this course, even if you are a novelist or prefer novels, you should read short stories for a while. I recommend including reading in the goals you put on your Goals Worksheet. In addition, the course's final project requires you to read stories by a number of authors.

You should therefore get your hands on some short story anthologies. Choose anthologies that include contemporary authors, not just classics. You can find anthologies at your public library.

Topics for Creative Writing Assignments

Don't know what to write for your homework or during the 10-minute assignments? You can browse the CWN story starters section for more ideas. There are specific prompts pages designed for the following topics:

Story Starters - Showing Versus Telling, Detail, and Description

Story Starters - Character Development

Story Starters - Plot and Story Climax

Story Starters - Point of View

Story Starters - Dialogue

Class structure

During every class up until the Final Project, you will:

  1. Fill out the Progress Checklist to track your progress on the homework (except for the first class).
  2. Do a reading assignment.
  3. Do a 10-minute writing assignment.
  4. Go to the Goals Worksheet to assign yourself homework for the next class.
  5. Put the next class time on your calendar.

Some final advice

Don't get perfectionist with the course assignments. These are exercises, intended to grow your muscles. If you spend hours polishing three sentences until they gleam, you will not have time to try a lot of new techniques.

Creative writing teachers like to say that "Good writing is rewriting." It's not bad advice, but ignore it during this course. Temporarily, focus on quantity over quality. Generate as much new material as possible. Then if you create something with potential, you can go back and do the rewriting later.

You are not carving these assignments in marble. Don't take them too seriously. Get messy; feel free to make "mistakes," to experiment and write some garbage in the process. That's the way to grow. And the fastest way to block your creativity is if you get the idea that every word you put down has to be just right. Relax -- it's just a first draft.

I'll leave you with a quote from the fiction writer Charles Baxter: "Literature is not a sack race."

There's no prize for the first one to the finish line. You won't improve faster by hurrying through this course. Take your time. Put effort into your Goal Worksheets and the creative writing assignments you set for yourself.

And have fun. Really. It will make you a better writer.

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