I have seen a number of writers ask the community, “Should I take writing classes?” The short answer is yes, especially if you find yourself asking this question. You don’t necessarily need to go out and get a degree in writing like I did, even though I feel it was invaluable to me as a writer and I have become better because of it. But even just an online course or one at your local community college can help you improve your writing in ways you may not have thought possible. Do you have to take classes in order to be a good writer? No, but here are some reasons why you should still consider it.
Why reading and writing a lot isn’t always enough
Many people say that just reading a lot and writing a lot will be plenty helpful, and indeed these things are crucial for improving your skills. Reading extensively in the genre in which you are writing teaches valuable lessons in what is successful in the industry. But one thing I learned in a writing course is how important it is to read like a writer.
As you’re reading, you need to analyze things the author has done like character development, plot flow, setting descriptions, and dialogue, then determine what makes those things work for that writer. Then think of how you can apply those techniques to your own writing. A thorough writing class will include the reading of a published work with discussion and analysis just like that, and group discussions can bring up ideas that you may not have thought of.
As for writing a lot, practice makes perfect indeed. However, if you are practicing with bad habits, this can cause problems over time. Think of learning a new language; if you practice on your own without anyone or anything correcting your grammar and pronunciation, you are eventually going to have to retrain to do it correctly. The same can be applied to writing without guidance of some kind. If your characters are not fully developed or your plot is not engaging enough or your descriptions are lackluster, simply writing a lot will not help you improve.
Why books on the craft of writing aren’t always enough
There are tons of books out there about the craft of writing, ranging from the overall process to specifics like character, plot, and dialogue. Many of these books contain excellent advice, including those written by highly successful authors such as On Writing by Stephen King and The Faith of a Writer by Joyce Carol Oates. But learning enough from books about writing requires a great deal of self-discipline. You may decide to skip any writing prompts or brush off certain ideas, but a writing teacher will force you to try it and learn from it anyway.
Often times writers don’t want to be forced to do things a certain way. There were plenty of times when I absolutely hated certain writing assignments for my classes, some of which I felt I didn’t gain anything from. I was also forced to read books I didn’t enjoy, which was misery at times. But of all the assignments that I thought would be pointless, most of them actually turned out to be greatly beneficial. By being forced to try new things, you begin to see things from a different perspective and add new tools to use in your writing. Tunnel vision is very bad yet very common for writers, and formal classes will help you break free from that trap.
Why writers’ groups and workshops aren’t always enough
What about writers’ groups or writing workshops? These, too, can help improve writing, but only by so much. Writers’ groups are typically for feedback on your work from other writers, and getting the perspective of others and receiving suggestions can help you improve your story. But the value of a writers’ group is wholly dependent on who else is in the group. I’ve been in writers’ groups and workshops where writers are simply there for feedback on their own writing and have little to no interest in offering assistance to others in the group. Writers like that offer no benefit to you, and you certainly don’t want to be one of those yourself. Having a teacher oversee a class and guide the discussion to include everyone will make sure all members of the group benefit from each other.
So what’s the bottom line? How will you benefit from investing in writing classes? Here’s how:
- You learn to read like a writer.
- You learn about proper character development, story structure, and techniques that you can practice with.
- Having to do things you normally wouldn’t do broadens your writer’s toolbox and breaks down tunnel vision.
- You receive constructive feedback either directly from a teacher or through teacher-led discussions.
If you’re serious about improving your writing, start searching for learning opportunities. Check the catalog of your local community college. In-person classes are the most beneficial, but if there is nothing local to you or you are uncomfortable being a part of a live group, there are online courses you can take from anywhere in the world. Be sure to supplement these courses by reading in your target genre and consistently practicing the skills you learn.