Sometimes, it’s tempting to outsource our learning to others, to let them tell us how to write. I know that because I’ve done it too.
I had enrolled in a distance-learning programme many moons ago, when the internet wasn’t as developed and when the learning material would come in the form of snail mail.
“Get paid at the end of the course or you get your money back!” That was their promise. Surely, it was a win-win, right?
That’s how I quickly learned that writing isn’t about hoarding techniques and knowledge. You’re not going to improve just by having a mentor tell you what to do. You have to create and find ways to share said creations with the world.
And you have to want to do all that, on your own accord, regardless of the outcome.
But now that we’ve established this gloomy outlook on writing, let’s hop on to why you shouldn’t pay to learn the craft.
Information is free
Just like programming, you can teach yourself a good chunk of writing thanks to the best mentor in the world: Google. For instance, here are the subjects commonly listed under copywriting courses:
- How to create a customer avatar
- What is AIDA and PAS
- Features versus benefits
And here are some for the creative writing courses:
- How to create characters
- What is POV
- How to world-build
Now do me a favour and google the terms yourself. What do you think? Would you be willing to pay anywhere from fifty to a thousand bucks for the above info?
Of course, this excludes the subjective topics such as ‘how to get over writer’s block’ or ‘how to write better prose’, because if that’s what you’re looking for, you can get all that on this site for free. And speaking of subjective…
Art is subjective
I guess my gripe about the mass of writing courses out there is that people can structure their syllabuses however they please.
One mentor’s ‘Most Important Tip For Copywriting’ could very well be a seven-minute video on customer avatars, while another’s holy grail could be the psychology of selling.
But in a field where one person’s opinion on bad form could be another’s bread and butter (I’m looking at you, adverbs and JK Rowling), it’s too easy to adopt the absolutes that some ‘authorities’ claim would make or break your career.
The worst is when the aspiring students sign up for a comprehensive course, then realise that they’d just paid a thousand dollars for nothing, because…
Not everything is used in the real world
Sure, it’s in your best interest to know the differences between PAS and AIDA, but no boss has ever told me to follow a specific framework.
What’s more realistic is your boss saying something like ‘we have a two-minute video to highlight these points’ or ‘can you suggest the taglines and menu items following this app wireframe’.
In fact, even if you followed all the copywriting instructions to a tee, you’d still get someone up the chain of command who thinks it sucks.
That’s the problem with cookie-cutter courses that supposedly prepare you for a writing career. The subjects they teach you might not concern the everyday copywriter, wasting both your time and money.
For instance, white papers might sound like an interesting subject (plus it’s often touted a source for the monies) until you realise that it’s a medium you never want to touch, and it’ll cost you $499 just to come to that realisation.
And while e-mail marketing does have its uses, you shouldn’t sit through a newsletter masterclass just because you think it might come handy someday.
So, should you not pay to learn?
There’s only one reason why it’s worthwhile to pay for a course. And that’s if you get a true kick out of learning the craft.
Couple that with having a specific problem you can’t solve on your own and you’ll have a solid investment for your money.
Because again, you could easily learn all about e-mail marketing through Google, and there’s very little that other people can teach you that’s not already available online.
But if you’ve been sending out newsletters for a while, and you don’t know how else to increase your open rates, then it makes sense to seek out the help of a professional to tackle your exact problem.
More upsides to writing courses
It’s not all doom and gloom for writing courses. There are benefits to them after all.
For one, you get to network, especially if it’s an in-person course. Because who you know is as important as what you know. Also, writing’s such a solitary pursuit that connecting with like-minded people would be such a plus.
Then there’s the benefit of workshopping, or feedback-based learning. That’s a luxury worth its premium too, since proper critique is hard to come by these days, especially for writing.
Lastly, there’s the chance of rubbing shoulders with industry experts. Maybe you’ve always wanted to know how an e-mail marketer in your area earns her living, or how a renowned novelists writes their first draft. It’s always great to get insights right from the horses mouth.
Which brings me to my next point.
Joining a masterclass
If you’ve ever sat through any of the famous Masterclasses, you’ll probably know that they’re more like exclusive interviews than actual classes.
And as someone who’s watched both Neil Gaiman’s and Margaret Atwood’s courses, I can safely say that the act of writing itself has taught me so much more than both Masterclasses combined.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t check them out, especially if you’re fans of their work. They did have some great insights, and perhaps those tiny nuggets of wisdom could take your writing to the next level, but just keep in mind that a few hours’ worth of videos won’t magically bestow you with Gaiman’s graceful prose or Atwood’s work ethic.
Those you’ll have to find on your own.
The best learning you can do…
…is to write. I know, I know, it’s super cliche at this point. But it’s true.
The biggest lessons I’ve learned in writing were garnered through plain ol’ trial and error. No amount of reading On Writing or The Elements Of Style has done so otherwise.
Yes, it’ll feel like you’re stumbling in the dark, and you won’t even know if you’re making any progress sometimes, but every word you put down is rewiring the connections in your brain, even if you don’t realise it.
One day, you’ll look back and see how far you’ve come, and you won’t be able to describe how you got there.
Like I said in my previous post, the best thing you can do as a writer is to get your first million words out. Then the real work begins.
So there you have it. A million words. The best takeaway I can give you on writing. And it didn’t even cost you a dime.
What would you pay for in a writing course, and what would you expect out of the syllabus? Let me know in the comments! Also, if you haven’t joined the newsletter already, you’re missing out on a ton of exclusive content similar to this one!