Monday, March 16, 2009

On-Line Classes

I love on-line writing classes. For a small fee, I can learn about an era in history, research a topic I want to write about, or hone my writing skills. I have the opportunity to ask an expert anything I need to know and I can participate as much or as little as I like. I can save all the lessons and study them again later at my leisure. I’ve taken classes on a wide range of subjects, from one that helped me set up my MySpace page, to ones that helped with motivation and goal setting.

The subjects offered in on-line classes are varied. Here’s a list of March 2009 classes from the February edition of e-notes from RWA:
- Mr. Ed tells all: Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Horses
- The Power of the Dark Side: Create Great Villains and Villainesses
- Mastering Point of View
- Empowering Character Emotions
- Internal Conflicts; External Conflicts - The Essential Diagnosis, Treatment and Cures for All Conflict Ills
-Disaster! Beyond Goal, Motivation and Conflict
-Behind the Scenes: Cold Case Investigations
-Story, Theme and Idea
-Building Hot Sex Scenes
-Block Busting: Putting the Joy Back in Writing
-Behind the Scenes - The Research Before the Book

The classes listed here are put on by various RWA Chapters such as the Mystery and Suspense chapter (, the Mid Willamette Valley Romance Writers ( or the Heart of Dixie Romance Writers ( I’ve also taken a class through the RWA chapter Passionate Ink Writers ( Classes are open to non-RWA writers, with discounts on the cost of the class given to members of that writing group. Though most of the classes I take are through RWA chapters, a quick search on Google using “online romance writing classes” came up with several viable options as well.

I’m also a member of PRO with Romance Writers of America. PRO puts on several classes a year, all of them free to PRO members. These classes offer an insider’s look into the publishing industry by interviewing agents, editors and published authors. PRO members get a chance to ask questions of these insiders, thereby getting a feel for what’s really going on in the book world. The latest class offered was “Deciphering Rejections”. For me, the information gleaned from these classes makes being a PRO definitely worthwhile.

So what makes a good online class? Affordability, for starters. Most of the classes I take cost between $15 and $30 US and last one to four weeks. Having a good presenter is another must. Someone who is an expert in her field, or has done research in the area she is presenting is critical. For instance, writer Alicia Rasley is well known for her classes on plot and point of view. As well, I’ve taken classes from prominent writers such as Shirley Jump. A class that actively participates in the exercises makes for lively and interesting discussion. From past experience, I’ve found that often someone else’s questions will shed light on a topic for me. A good presenter will always make sure that she keeps the discussion on topic and does not let it get sidetracked.

Most classes use Yahoo groups as their platform. If you don’t already have a Yahoo account, you’ll need one to take part. Once you pay for your class (you can usually pay with Paypal) you will be sent an email inviting you to join the group. Simply follow the links to join. You are given the option of which email address you’d like messages sent to and you can opt to receive individual emails or a daily digest of messages. Extra files and pictures can be uploaded to the Yahoo site. In the class I’m currently taking, students can upload a scene to the files section. Our instructor looks over our scene, and creates a new Word file containing her edits and suggestions. She then uploads the new file and the whole class can download it. We have the benefit of seeing not only our files but all our classmates’ files, giving us a wide range of perspectives and ideas. Once the class is over, the site is closed, so make sure to retrieve all the files and lessons you’d like before that happens.

On-line classes are a way for me to keep learning my craft and pick up new skills. I find them helpful and fun. The selection of available classes is always interesting and my biggest problem is not having enough time to indulge in as many as I would like.

Have you ever participated in an on-line class? Did you find it useful?


Captain Hook said...

I'm not a fan of online classes. I find it too hard to accurately guage people's responses to my stuff.

Even my online critique group, if I could find one in person, I might back off from the online stuff.

ban said...

i'm a bit naive about what's out there for writers - esp. since i never considered myself one 'till recently. heck until i joined my first yahoo group i didn't know so many people had stories floating around in their heads. (thought i was somewhat 'touched' - glad i'm not the only one :) think, i'd like to take an online class sometime, guess when i'm ready i'll stop beating around the bush !

Karen said...

Hey Jana,
I'm interested in trying an online class. I kinda like the idea of a layer of seperation and being a little bit invisible. Thanks for your suggestions. Also I never thought of using online classes to do researach. That idea intrigues me.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Captain Hook,
I have to say I agree with you in that I almost always prefer a live, in-person class or critique group. That said, time, money, and distance don't always allow me to go to a conference or to meet my critique partners face to face for a regular critique. So for me the next best thing is to head to the Internet, and I've found it's been a good alternative, or perhaps I should say supplement to live classes, workshops and critiques I'm able to attend.

I really hope you find the critique group that works best for you, whether it's live or on-line.

Good luck,

Jana Richards said...

Hi ban,
Thanks for joining us here on the Prairies.

Being kind of a lurker, and definitely an introverted sort of person (just check out my past posts for confirmation on that!) on-line classes are a good fit for me. I don't necessarily have to actively participate. FYI, even in live classes I'm usually pretty quiet. But, depending on the class, sometimes you get much more out of a class if you do actively participate. So, when you're ready to take the plunge into a class, I can tell you that it's fairly painless. I can also tell you that I always get something out of the classes I've taken, some much more than others.

Welcome to the wonderful world of writing, ban. And those stories floating around in your head? You're not touched, just creative.


Jana Richards said...

Good morning Karen,
I've seen several classes that deal in research. Often groups dedicated to historical romance will put on classes on various subjects such as clothing worn in past time periods. The mystery and suspense chapter of RWA has a fabulous line of research type classes for for people writing in that genre. In January they had an expert in serial killers putting on a class. They have FBI people and CSI people quite often. It's not quite research, but the class I took in setting up my MySpace page was a life saver. I am not tech savvy enough to do it on my own.

I really wanted to take the class in March called "Mr. Ed tells all: Everything you wanted to know about horses" but I just didn't have time. (sigh) Maybe next time.


Silver James said...

Mastering Point of View Oh dear lordy do I need that class! LOL I just spent this last revision fixing all of them. Can you say, "Head hop much?" *rolls eyes*

I've often wondered how the on-line classes worked. Thanks for the insight. I'll definitely have to check into some once I can stop and take a long breath. And good to know that PRO has free classes from time to time. I've been approved but haven't had time to really explore the RWA RWA/PRO site for info.

Thanks, Jana!

Janet C. said...

I have been so tempted in the past to take some online classes - thanks, Jana, for convincing me they are worth the money and time.

How often do you 'sign up'? Do you try and get a class in every couple of months or only when you see one you know you must take? And, because I don't need another thing on my list of 'procastination vices', how much time do you figure it takes out of your 3 weeks (say, it's a 3 week class)?

Great post - much food for thought here :)


Jana Richards said...

Hi Silver,
I think the Pro Classes are quite worthwhile because there is such insider knowledge there. And they're free, which is a big selling point for me. As far as I remember once you become a Pro and give them your email address you are automatically signed up for the Pro Classes. Also, if you ever go to the RWA National, there is usually a 'class' in the weeks before the conference in which a couple of people who live in the host city let PRO members know what's available in their city and at the hotel. There's also stuff like what appropriate wear for the banquet, and so on.


Jana Richards said...

Hey Janet,
I have to admit I'm something of an on-line class junkie. I went a couple of years without taking any classes, but in the past year or so I've taken several.

Mostly I take classes that interest me or I feel I need work on. So I've taken several on plotting, and of course I've blogged about the motivation and goal setting class I took. The MySpace class was a necessity since I couldn't figure out anything on my own. I've just finished one called "Building Hot Sex Scenes". More on that in future blogs.

The time I put into them varies. This past one on sex scenes I wish I could have spent more time on because our instructor gave us a critique on our original scene and I would have liked to rework it while all the advice was fresh in my head. Others I've kind of 'audited'. I pull out the lessons on plotting fairly often and read them over when I get stuck.


Suse said...

Hey Jana, I've taken several online classes, most of them good, and one quite disappointing.

The disappointing class was an introduction to internet writing. It didn't have any assignments so I didn't feel I had learned anything. Also as you said, Jana, it definitely matters who the instructor is of the online course. But maybe if I reread my class notes with a different outlook, I'll find a glimmer of something.

I've also taken online courses on magazine writing, keys to effective editing and the fundamentals of nonfiction.

I've only checked out and Writers Online Workshops.

I have the urge to take another online course, but until I get this extra project done at work, I won't have the time or the brain power to do anything until maybe the summer. Hopefully there will be something of interest at that time.

You've mentioned a few classes that I'll definitely look into at that time.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Jana - excellent post with lots of info and links.

I took an on-line class on Website Making which gave me HTML knowledge and because of that, the courage to start my first blog.

I would take more classes if I had time.

However, I heard rumours that Yahoo was changing it's group pages... ???