If you're serious about writing but don't want to commit to a full degree program, taking individual writing courses online can help you develop your craft. While many other subjects have high-quality free courses available online, writing is a bit different. Several useful no-cost writing courses are available. However, the best writing courses include intensive feedback from both professor and peers – something that is a bit difficult to orchestrate in a free course.
Because of this, the best online writing courses tend to be taught by published authors, editors, or agents. They usually involve some sort of workshop format, allowing students to review and comment on each others work.
If this sounds like the kind of course you're interested in, take a look at these top-notch online writing courses:
Mediabistro – Mediabistro offers a wide variety of courses taught by vetted professionals. Classes are targeted to literary writers, journalists, and media professionals. Students generally receive a weekly written lecture and meet in a chat forum for one hour a week to discuss the current week’s assignment and review student questions. Courses of interest include: "Get a Literary Agent", "Copy Editing", "Middle Grade Novel Writing," "Copywriting for Social Media," "Creative Social Branding," and "Pinterest Marketing."
Gotham Writer’s Workshop – Gotham Writers Workshops are the same workshops offered in New York, re-formatted for an online audience. Students can choose from a variety of courses including: screenwriting, food writing, romance writing, blogging, and character development. Gotham has small class sizes with a set start and end date. However, courses are asynchronous (students don’t need to log in at a set time each week). Content is delivered via a written lecture, a comment board, and weekly assignments.
Stanford’s Online Writing Courses – If you're looking for a more structured, academic approach to writing, you'll want to check out the courses from Stanford’s Continuing Education Program. They offer multiple semester-long courses that require readings, workshops, and discussions. Classes are asynchronous. However, they are rigorous since they are taught in the academic sphere. Enrollment is open to all adults and not limited to Stanford students. Take a look at their unique offerings including: “Travel Writing: Get Paid to See the World,” “Creative Non-Fiction: Telling Your Story,” and “The Nature of Fun in Writing: Play and Process."
Writer’s Digest University – These dynamic online courses are produced by the same organization that publishes the Writer’s Digest monthly periodical. The asynchronous courses include weekly lectures, assignments, and feedback. Course length varies depending on the type of content. Students can choose from a variety of courses, from beginner to expert: “Getting Started in Writing,” “Writing the Paranormal Novel,” “Freelance Writing,” “Marketing Your Magazine Articles,” “Conflict and Suspense,” and “Query Letter in 14 Days.”
Writers.com – The Writers.com website is rather basic and their courses tend to run cheaper than the rest. However, depending on the instructor, you’re likely to get more than your moneys worth. Classes are designed completely by the instructors and tend to run 8 or 10 weeks. All courses are taught asynchronously and students are expected to complete assignments by email. The course list is updated monthly. However, some courses of interest include: “Write from Your Spirit: For Writing Women,” “Claiming Our Stories: Autobiography and Autobiographical Fiction,” “Exploring the World of Children’s Writing,” and “Discover Your Writing Niche.”
24PearlStreet – This program offers some of the more uncommon writing workshops, taught by accomplished authors. Courses are scheduled several months out and potential students are often required to submit a writing sample in order to be considered for acceptance into a particular course. Course interaction is determined by the instructors and often includes useful feedback such as a personal Skype session at the end of the course. Take a look at their course listings to find options such as: “Imagery and Mystery in the Art of Fiction,” “Telling the Unspeakable,” “Disobedience: Bad Characters (Can) Make for Good Fiction,” and “The Lyric Essay.”