Free Online Writing Courses and Other Useful Information for New Writers


We have a special place in our hearts for new writers, which likely comes from our lifelong love of books and aspirations of seeing our hard work available for others to read (thanks for making our dreams a reality, readers!). So, it is with this mind that we did a little digging and came up with oodles of information that may help you get your start as a writer. We’ve got a lot to tell you about today, so let’s bust a move and get “write” to work. Ha! We slay ourselves!

A Little Data Goes A Long Way…

The road traveled down to become a writer is at times long and rough. Writing can be an awesome profession, and it can really pay off as we’re sure you’ve witnessed as some of your own favorite writers have earned success. We are going to be Debbie Downers for a nanosecond here, though, by telling you that it’s not always easy to find work that is consistent and to get published, if that’s what you are shooting for.

To paint a clearer picture of your odds of becoming a gainfully employed writer, we popped over to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for some digits on your odds of bringing in the bacon as a writer. Here’s what we found out! According to the BLS, as of 2012 there were 129,100 jobs held by writers and authors and roughly two-thirds of those surveyed were reportedly self-employed. We were also able to see that the amount of writing jobs expected to be available in 2022 is about 132,900.

This data made us grab our calculators (Hey, we’re writers, not mathematicians!) to see what kind of growth there will be across that time span. We found that the job growth for writers is only about 3%, which is pretty darn slow over a ten year period.

It’s pretty easy to see how hard it will be to gain some ground as a writer, but don’t let that discourage you from pursuing your passion for the written word. Instead, use the information we’ve been slinging at you as a tool to help you consider other options available to you when using your craft. For example, you can work part time as a writer or do it as a hobby that your income isn’t riding on while working a job that will pay the bills. That way, if/when you make it to the big time, you’ll have made it there without living on a Ramen Noodle diet!

One last bit of number talk before we move on to the really fun stuff! There are many different paths that one can meander down as a writer and having an idea of what the job availability is may be a little help once you’re ready to get to work. So, without further ado, here are the industries that most writers and authors were employed in as of 2012:

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Universities Offering Free Online Writing Classes

More and more universities are jumping on the OpenCourseWare (OCW) bandwagon by offering a variety of free courses and free materials online. Most of these courses are not going to count towards your college credits, but it’s still a great way to learn some helpful information without having to shell out a ton of money on tuition or books.

Finding schools that offer free writing classes can be a really beneficial thing for writers looking to improve their existing set of skills or learn new ones. Earning a college degree isn’t an absolute necessity for some writing jobs, but having a little a little extra boost in areas like grammar, essay writing, or technical writing may prove to be just the thing you need to keep the work coming in. There just so happen to be classes on these topics available too!

We used our awesome researching powers (and by that we mean Google) to see which universities offer free online writing courses and which subjects are covered. The names of some of the schools offering up the goods will probably surprise you because it sure did us, so if you’re ready to have your mind blown by the awesome amount of info we’re going to drop on you now, we’ll get down to business!

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Nope, this isn’t a typo! MIT really does offer quite a few free writing classes through their  OCW program. Students are able to access several undergraduate and graduate level courses. MIT enables students to get their learn on by simply downloading the course materials and watching the accompanying video sessions. Most of the featured writing classes even have exams, assignments and lecture notes just like a real college course!

Want to take a gander at a few of the free online writing classes offered at MIT? Yeah, we figured you would, so here you go:

  • Writing and Reading the Essay: In this course, you will have the opportunity to explore essays as they are presented in literary context. Essays can be very broad in scope and malleable depending on what the author means and how the reader interprets it. This is often a class that appeals to both writers of fiction and non-fiction.
  • Writing and Reading Poems: If poetry is in your bag of tricks, you my want to check out this course offered at MIT. This is a course that will help you hone in on the proper structure and textual options you have available to you as a poet. There will also be some time spent analyzing the work of other 20th century poets with styles ranging from the more traditional to contemporary.

Click here for more free writing courses: http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/find-by-topic/

Purdue University

Purdue University has a nifty feature available called the Online Writing Lab (OWL). The OWL provides students and even teachers with 24/7 access to a ton of writing classes as well as some pretty handy course materials. Students will have access to Powerpoint presentations to look at, podcasts to listen to and even some handouts to work on to get those writing skills in tip top shape.

There really are a lot of writing classes offered through the OWL feature and from the looks of it, there is also a lot of ground covered on many different topics. A few course options to look forward to are grant writing, professional and technical writing and basic business writing. We’d probably be here all night if we told you each writing course available, so here are a couple to give you an idea of what you can learn about:

  • Audience Analysis Overview: Knowing the audience that is intended to read your writing can be pretty helpful and will aid you in the quality of your writing overall. You’re likely to write better and tailor you work when you are aware of the the tone, writing style, information and expectations of your readers. This online course will help you learn the helpful skill of reading your reader, essentially.
  • Writing in Psychology: When writing for a discipline like psychology, there are quite a few rules to follow to ensure that you are meeting the expectations of the field. This will be a pretty helpful class for you in your in this field or are considering venturing into it. Some of the writing principles covered in this online course are using plain language, conciseness and clarity of language, evidence based reasoning and the proper use of APA format.

Click here to see more of Purdue University’s free course: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/

University of Iowa

The University of Iowa also has a special online tool available to writers, which it aptly named The Writing University. The free courses available at this school are presented in podcast form and are accompanied by presentations by the instructors giving the audio lessons. Students interested in working on their writing skills in fiction, nonfiction and even experimental writing will find something at The Writing University that will tickle their fancy without a doubt.

Here are some examples of the writing courses you can sink your teeth into at the University of Iowa:

  • Better Talky Talky: The Art and Craft of Strong Dialogue: Most book editors will tell you that they tend to jump to reading some of the dialogue of a manuscript before they read much else. They will also tell you that reading weak dialogue will make them chuck a manuscript across the room (Ok, so maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration depending on the editor). So, it’s probably a good idea to have some rock solid dialogue writing skills in your arsenal if you’re hoping to make a go at this writing thing. This course will help you sharpen your metaphorical tongue and work on developing some strong dialogue skills.
  • Who Are These People and Who Invited Them: The title of this course is enough to make most writers want to give it a go and the content is more than worthy of sticking around for. Works of fiction revolve around characters and not just any characters will do. You want your character to jump off the page, becoming more than just ink to parchment. You want to embed these fictional people into the minds of your readers the way Atticus Finch and Frodo Baggins is embedded into yours. This online course is going to guide you through the ways in which to do this very thing and before you know it, your character will be coming to life in unique and three dimensional ways!

Click here to see more of the University of Iowa’s free courses: http://www.writinguniversity.org/

Utah State University (USU)

The OCW courses at Utah State University are helpful to writers wishing to brush up on what they already know or to learn new ways of writing. These courses are also potentially helpful to students that are currently enrolled in degree programs and in need of knowledge and extra college credits. Earning credits with an OCW course isn’t really all that common, but USU is open to allowing students to take exams on the subjects with credits doled out upon passing. Not all departments of the university participate in this feature, but it’s certainly something to check into if you’re already a student at USU or are considering attending.

So, what are some of the classes available that may allow you to fit more information into your gray matter while potentially earning college credits? Take a look and find out:

  • Intermediate Writing: Research Writing in a Persuasive Mode: Mastering the art of arguing on paper can be a difficult task to accomplish for some, so a course such as this one, may be just the thing needed if you’re struggling here. This course will help you write in an effective manner so that your audience understands the point you are trying to make while viewing you as a credible source of great, well researched information. Some of the main areas of focus covered in this course that will help you bring your persuasive writing skills home are: understanding and employing productive writing processes, developing and implementing critical reading, thinking and listening skills and how to use the research gathered to clearly understand and effectively relay information about a topic.
  • Technology for Professional Writers: This is a course for writers that are a little rusty using some of the technology out there in the writing world. It’s one thing to be a good writer, but it’s another not to know how to use a word processing program, blog posting server or any other technological tool needed to work in the writing industry. You’ll be a pro in no time once you’re done with this class and you’ll be able to show off some of your new tricks too!

Click here to see more of Utah State University’s free courses: http://ocw.usu.edu/courselist/index.html

Show Off Your Writing Skills…

We’ve filled you in on the statistics of working as a writer and given you an idea of where you can go to learn extra skills…but what are you supposed to do now? Well, you can certainly dive in head first by searching for a writing job or by submitting a manuscript, especially if you are brave and take the “YOLO” approach to life.

If kicking the writing door down isn’t your style, no worries because we’ve got something else for you to consider. You obviously want to get your writing in the hands of someone that is interested in reading it, right? So, how about submitting some pieces to a literary magazine or contest? These are two pretty great ways to get your stuff read, toughen up your skin a bit for some of the inevitable criticism that comes every writer’s way and sometimes you even get a little bit of cheddar for the submissions. Sounds like to perfect trifecta to us!

The magazines and contests we’re going to tell you about are geared towards giving new/unpublished writers a voice, but there are many options out there for more experienced writers too. Grab a notepad and pen to take some notes! Here we go!

Magazines For New and Unpublished Writers

There’s nothing better than seeing something you wrote in front of you in black and white, especially when you know that others will be reading it too. The following magazines aim to help writers spread their wings and fly into the world of being a published writer:

  • Brittle Star: This magazine has been around for nearly fifteen years and prides itself on publishing the work of newbie writers for the first time. The Brittle Star specializes in short story fiction poetry, which is published twice a year.
  • Ricochet Magazine: This Melbourne based magazine is a popular spot for new writers with an interest in getting their writing published online. One of the cool and beneficial things about Ricochet Magazine is the time the editors take the time to provide feedback for all writers who submit their work. The feedback isn’t contingant upon being published either, which we think is really cool. Feedback can be difficult to take at times, but in the long run it makes you a better writer and that is the goal of this magazine’s editorial team.
  • Boulevard Magazine: Next year will mark Boulevard Magazine’s 30th anniversary as publishers of great works of fiction, nonfiction and poetry. There are times when Boulevard publishes the work of writers with some experience behind them, but this magazine’s real interest lies in getting the talent of newer writers out there for the world to see. The magazine’s mantra is “if you have practiced your craft and your work is the best it can be, send it to Boulevard.”

Writing Contests for Emerging Writers

Another way for new writers to get their hard work read and possibly published, is by submitting it to contests. There are several contests available specifically for new writers and most cost little to no entry fee to submit a piece. Some of these contests even offer a prize or two to the winner along with the publication of all your hard work. Let’s take a look at some contests now:

  • The Jane Lumley Prize for Emerging Writers: This contest for up and coming writers is pretty new to the scene and is hosted by the Hermeneutic Chaos Literary Journal. If you have yet to publish a full length book, then you may just want to submit your hard work to get some much needed recognition. Each year the contest will accept either poetry or prose and award the winner a prize of $300 and publication of the submitted piece. There isn’t an entry fee for this contest either, so keep this one in mind during the next run!
  • Emerging Writer’s Contest: New writers of fiction, nonfiction and poetry without a book published, are eligible to enter into the contest sponsored by Ploughshares. There is an entry fee of only$24 unless you already subscribe to the Ploughshares, in which case the fee is waived. A winner from each genre will be selected based upon the quality of their work and will be awarded a cash prize of $1,000!
  • Short Story Award for New Writers: This contest is held by the Glimmer Train Stories publication and is only open to new writers that have not and are not scheduled to appear in any print publication containing over 5,000. Writers may submit no more than three short stories containing up to 12,000 words each, although most stories run around 1,500 to 6,000 words. Each submission requires a $15 reading fee as well. The first place winner of the contest will receive a $1,500 cash prize, publication in Glimmer Train Stories and 20 copies of the publication. The second and third place winners will receive $500 and $300 respectively, but may receive up to $700 and 10 copies of the publication if the short stories are accepted for publication.

Before You Go…

Here are a few quick and memorable tips for writers. These tips apply to new writers and even more seasoned writers…So, read them and put them to good practice!

  • If you think it, write it. Just do it. Trust us, because you never know where some of your wayward thoughts may take you.
  • You’re a reader first and foremost. Don’t forget that and try to pick up every book, magazine and newspaper you can.
  • Become BFF’s with your dictionary and thesaurus. Try to keep one of each with you when you are writing, but if it’s not really convenient to lug around your old Oxford dictionary from college, at least make sure your phone is charged so you can use trusty old Google!
  • Pay attention to the world around you as much as possible. You’re likely to receive a great amount of inspiration from the people, places and things that surround you.
  • Grammar is super important. Learn the rules and practice how to break them without looking like a fell out of the grammar tree and hit every branch on your way down.
  • Focus…Turn off the radio, close your Facebook and Twitter tabs and turn off the TV. Tune out all the unnecessary static in your life and just write.
  • Proofread every single thing you write and then do it again. Try reading your work aloud as that is a very effective way to catch awkward phrasing and other errors that are often easy to miss when reading silently to yourself.
  • Own your writer-ness (yep, we make up words here at LearnU!). Proudly declare yourself as a writer and shout it from the rooftops. It doesn’t matter if you’re getting paid to wield words or if you just do it for fun. If you feel like a writer, then a writer you shall be!
  • Put your inner editor in time out while you are writing your first draft. There will be plenty of time to proofread and edit later, so at first just write freely and let the ideas come naturally.
  • Most importantly…write, write and write some more.

Web Resources To Top It All Off…

Here is a quick list of some helpful web resources that will give you an extra leg up when you’re writing. There are a lot of sites out there, but these ones are our favorites, so take a gander when you have some time and click away when you need some extra tips or inspiration when writing!

Communities for Writers

Grammar and Reference Sites

Creative Juice Generators

Websites For Young and New Writers

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