Writers learn to refine their skills in a lot of different ways, and the most successful writers take the time to try a healthy variety of options before deciding which ones work the best for their personality and style. Taking classes in writing, whether as a high school or college student or on your own time somewhere else, is one method some writers find refreshing and helpful.
Some writers. Not all.
Those who teach writing have probably started an ongoing list of pros, and it’s true there are benefits to learning how to write while sitting beside a diverse group of writers at all experience levels. There are downsides, however, that might make you reconsider signing up for an optional writing course in the near future.
Consider these factors when deciding whether or not to sign up for a writing course near you.
Individual Critiques Are Minimal
There are plenty of opportunities to receive feedback on your work when you’re taking a writing-focused course, whether it’s creative writing, journalism, research or something else. Unfortunately, most of this feedback tends to be generalized, sculpted to fit an entire group of writers after an instructor has reviewed an assignment.
“Here are the most common mistakes I saw,” she’ll say, and spend the next portion of the hour going over them. Some instructors break their classes into peer review groups, which is a step in the right direction, but if you’re looking for professional feedback from a credible, experienced writer, a class just isn’t the best place you’ll find it.
You’re Taught From One Point of View
The most beneficial courses you’ll take, in any subject, are taught by more than one person. Exposure to multiple expert opinions on the same material allows you to sift through what you’re given and store away the pieces you find most helpful. This isn’t usually the case with writing courses, especially college freshman composition.
Most writing instructors, especially on the more creative side, won’t say there’s a right and wrong way to write. However, more than once you’ll hear the phrase, “This is how I do it.” Hearing how another writer writes can be beneficial, but in those moments you disagree with an instructor’s opinion on how something should be done, you might start feeling a little … trapped.
You’ll Find Yourself Stuck in a Prompt
The purpose of prompts is to stimulate creative thought and get students to practice spilling those thoughts out on paper. There’s nothing wrong with them. Maybe someday you’ll actually flip through the composition notebook you had to purchase after enrolling in the course and look back on everything your instructor asked you to write about. But probably not.
While there is always the potential for a certain prompt to spark an entirely new idea for a story, this doesn’t do you much good once you emerge from the part of your brain that houses all your original ideas and find yourself still sitting in a chair, stuck on the initial prompt’s one-way street.
Courses geared specifically toward writers are put in place to give those who learn best in a classroom setting the chance to learn from others the next best steps to take in their own writing style and career. They’re a perfect way to network, and most likely you’ll be able to approach the instructor individually to ask more specific questions later.
Go ahead and give it a try—but if you find it’s not really working for you, don’t get discouraged. There are other ways to get motivated to practice writing without having to take a formal class. If you’re dedicated enough to your art, in time, you will find the one that’s right for you.
Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.