Online Creative Writing Courses, Offline Classes, MFA Programs, and Conferences

Are you looking for offline or online creative writing courses, or maybe even thinking of enrolling in an MFA program? On this page, you'll find:

  • Advice on what to expect from a creative writing class.
  • Tips on deciding if an MFA program is right for you.
  • Links to help you find a course or graduate program.

How creative writing is taught

Creative writing courses often contain some, or all, of the following elements:

1) Study of literature. You learn about language and literary techniques by studying the work of other writers.

2) Principles and techniques of craft. Particularly at the introductory level, instructors often suggest processes for character development, plotting, and so on, or offer "tricks of the trade" for achieving certain literary effects.

3) Guided exercises. Instructors design writing exercises in which you practice skills taught in the course.

4) Workshops and critiques. Critique of student writing is at the center of many creative writing courses. Often, graduate-level creative writing courses consist almost entirely of group workshops in which students give each other feedback on their writing, under the supervision of the course instructor.

What you can -- and can't -- get from a creative writing course

There are a lot of potential benefits from taking creative writing courses. Writing courses can motivate and inspire, and provide a structure for writing. You can get feedback on your writing, make connections with other writers, learn new techniques and skills. You can become a better reader of your own and other writers' work.

However, be very wary of writing courses that promise a magic formula for success. There are quite a few online creative writing courses these days that claim they will make you rich or show you how to write a bestseller. NO ONE can guarantee that, and you should suspect the motives of anyone who tells you differently. Think about it: if someone discovered an easy system for writing bestellers and becoming a millionaire, would that person really sell his or her system online for a couple of hundred dollars? It doesn't make sense.

Where to find creative writing courses

If you're looking for offline courses, a good place to start would be adult education programs at local universities and community colleges.

If you live in the U.S., the Department of Education provides a tool to search for university programs near your zip code. At the bottom of the list of search options, you can check boxes to look for distance learning and weekend/evening courses.

If you prefer to study online, you can find online writing courses here at Creative Writing Now. Some other sources of online creative writing courses include Gotham Writer's WorkshopWriter's Digest, and the University of Wisconsin.

Graduate creative writing graduate programs

The Master of Fine Arts (MFA) is the most common graduate degree in creative writing, but some universities also offer doctoral degrees.

Should you get an MFA or doctorate in creative writing? That depends on your goals and your situation.

A graduate degree in creative writing is primarily a teaching credential. Remember that you do not need an MFA to be a writer. But you want to teach creative writing at a university level, you will normally need a graduate degree in creative writing or literature.

Keep in mind that the market for university-level teaching positions is quite competitive, and earning a degree does not guarantee you a job.

Graduate programs are for writers who already accomplished in their craft. MFA programs are generally workshop-based and will NOT teach you basic writing skills. Instead, the programs are usually aimed at helping you to refine skills and polish a manuscript. MFA programs also provide an exciting opportunity to meet other writers and make professional contacts in the literary world.

Graduate school can be very expensive. If your finances are tight, we recommend against taking out student loans to pursue a graduate degree in creative writing because it may be very difficult to earn back your investment.

On the other hand, many graduate schools offer generous fellowships to cover the tuition and living expenses of a select group of students. If you can get one of these fellowships which covers all your costs or even pays you to write for a couple of years, that's a great opportunity!

Choosing a graduate program

Poets & Writers publish a ranking of MFA programs in the U.S.. In 2010, the following programs were at the top of the list:

1) University of Iowa (Iowa City)

2) University of Michigan (Ann Arbor)

3) University of Virgina (Charlottesville).

AWP offers a comprehensive online directory of MA, MFA, and doctoral programs in creative writing.

Our advice: if you decide you want to get a graduate degree, apply to at least half a dozen programs and see which ones, if any, offer you funding.

Points to look at:

- Who is on the faculty? You may have the chance to work with writers you admire. Important: remember that the best writers are not necessarily the best teachers. Talk to current and former students to learn more about individual faculty members and decide if you'd like working with them.

- What is the publication and professional placement record of program alumni? If your goal is a teaching position, consider how prestigious the program is in academic circles.

- What is the tone of the workshops? Is it an atmosphere in which you will feel comfortable? If possible, visit the school and sit in on workshops to get a sense of this.

- What are the costs of the program? What will your living expenses be in the area? Are there opportunities for funding? If you have been offered a fellowship, does that come with teaching responsibilities and, if so, how manageable will the workload be?

Writing conferences

Writing conferences can offer an exciting opportunity to meet other writers, develop or polish a manuscript, and even make publishing contacts.

There is a huge variety among writing conferences, so the right choice for you will depend on your goals.

Do you prefer a conference where you will spend time writing, or are you looking for feedback on a draft you've already written? Do you have a finished manuscript that you are ready to pitch to an agent?

Poets and Writers offers a detailed directory of writing conferences and colonies.

Online creative writing courses - Next steps

Find out about our online creative writing courses (some of them are free).

Browse story ideas and poetry prompts.

Check for available creative writing contests.

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