How much formal training in writing have you had? Did it help?


Watching you from upside down
Oct 7, 2016
I have not had any - the closest I've come is watching Sanderson's youtube lectures. I was thinking about taking a writing course recently, but it's so expensive around here! I could do something online of course, but then there's no social element.

So what were your experiences? Did they help your writing?
There are so many good books, usually written by successful authors, that tell you how they did it, that you can't even read them all.
Realistically, you have to make drafts, a bunch if possible, and get non family/friends to tell you whether you are readable
or not. Then it gets hard again.
None. I learned at first by trial and error, which took me a lot more time (six or seven years of fairly concentrated effort) and a lot more work than if I had been willing to learn from someone else. However, I think it was the only way that I was capable of learning it at that time. And the upside was that with all the mistakes I made along the way I not only learned what usually doesn't work but why it usually doesn't work, which was something I could pass on to people more open to writing advice than I was.

There did come a time when I was willing to listen to other people and then I joined what turned out to be a very good writers group. I don't know if you would consider that "formal" training, but it was free and I learned a lot from the other members of the group.
Creative Writing classes in high school and college. And no.

I've read a few books and feel they hindered me more than helped.

Advice from other authors (taken with grains of salt and mulled over, mind you) have helped me the most! :)
I've been to a few talks, read several how-to books and attended a writers' group for nearly 10 years. I found all of them useful in different ways, especially the writing group. Does that count as formal training?
Without reservation, I must unfortunately claim to be the least formally educated person on this forum... without exception. So I have no idea if formal writing training would help. Considering my age and goals, I doubt I'll ever find out.

Schools are expensive, best to get it when it is free, but that's the old story, if I only knew then what I know now. I find occasional glances into books can be more confusing than helpful.

I have learned that not having a useful educational experience for writing is not a good idea except for writing free form poetry where you can make up your own rules. It is much harder to get people to read your writing the more off mainstream you go.

There are two aspects to writing, the mechanics, and the style. The mechanics never goes out of style and if you are a good mechanic you can always got a job correcting other people's writing, in almost any field of interest. There are far more bad writers than good writers and good writing is needed at any level of business to get things done in a reasonable manner. The style is a completely different issue, but I would think if the mechanics are good, and the story is good, you get more leeway on the style of your writing. The good mechanics will keep you from a writing style that tends to leave readers in the dust. Getting a reader confused when reading a story is the best way to get them to put the book down, in more ways than one.

Feedback from readers is very important for me. It makes up for missteps that have been written into the text. Listening to what people say about what they felt about my writing gives me the best chance of staying on track as far as writing something people might want to read. I may not change it the way they want it, but I will try to make things make more sense.

The good thing about self publishing is that if want get your work published under any circumstances you can do it. Learning how to do that is a lot easier than it seems and should not be an obstacle to getting your work published. I would recommend using word (or a program that offers warnings and or corrections), a thesaurus, a dictionary, and checking on line to see what which word might be a better choice, I like to search by asking, better vs good, and see what comes up. You can learn something every time you look. Another thing I like to do is check to see how many times I use the same word, sometimes I find myself using the same word way too many times because it sounds good to me when I read out loud what I have written to see how it sounds. Repetition might be good for music lyrics but is usually bad for story writing.

Writing circles can be good or bad as you find out that some people will claim that what worked for them is how everything should be done. Many indie editors will give your work the same slant they give their work which may or may not be a good idea. You might also find that your social and political views are too important to other people to let them be able to see what you are writing, regardless of the socio political content.

Reading what other people have written is up to one's personal preferences, at any rate, it lets you see what other people are doing. Reading material that is relevant to what one is writing is never a bad idea.
None. I failed English at school and didn't get an urge to write until I was in my late 20s.

I had a few short stories published quite quickly, which gave me a lot of confidence, but it took many years before I got a publishing deal for a novel. I have no idea if tuition would have helped or hindered my progress, but writing has been a satisfying and rewarding experience so far. My theory is that the best writers are those who make the most mistakes along the way, so I must be getting pretty good :)
I have a PhD in history, and I do think it helped, though indirectly. I certainly wouldn't recommend it as a course in writing! But I did learn how to do research (which is rather more complex than merely looking stuff up), how to write to a deadline, how to write to a length. I learned multiple languages, which helped round out my primary language. I learned to write for a purpose--to tell a story to someone else in a clear and persuasive manner. Whether I do that well or poorly is not the fault of my teachers!

My point is that there are many factors that go into making a writer. There's self-discipline, clarity, command of language, depth of knowledge, range of experience, and more. Most of this can't be taught, though it can be developed. None of it comes quickly. Some few among us are natural writers. Those people--I am not one of them--somehow just know how to put together a story, in the same way an artist naturally knows how to draw or a musician how to play. When they practice, it's not to learn, but simply to improve. Some are born to sweet delight, as the poet says.

The rest of us have to take the long way to Carnegie Hall.
Absolutely none - apart from o level English language and literature at school.

It would be nice but time and costs are prohibitive.

I am part of a writing club that's led by an established author, though we don't share any WiP around. I also help same author lead a group for primary school kids. It would be good to find some writing group that shared WiP but there's nothing at all in easy travelling distance.

Practice makes perfect is a good throwaway quote I suppose, that and try, try, try again.
Same as everyone else. I followed the 'learn by doing approach.' It took a while but I made it.
No formal training in writing stories (I think I did only one piece of creative writing at school and I now feel appalled at that). Some formal training at criticising fiction and recognising themes (i.e. A level English). Some training on how to write in a formal manner/research etc.etc. (I have my Masters in Military History). Everything else comes from reading, a few books of advice, and a lot of discussion with my peers.

Would more formal stuff have helped? I don't know. I know two people with Masters in Creative Writing and they're not any more published than me (which is to say, not published at all). One seems to have despaired of the other people he did the course with, the other hasn't. In both cases, the best they seem to have taken from it is connections and exposure to the commercial side, but you can make connections in a lot of ways and exposure to the commercial side doesn't help if you don't have anything to sell (one of those people with the Masters has a rather funny story about one of his friends and that).

Now, don't get me wrong, I'd love to go and do it and find out for myself... if I could. But I don't have the money and I don't have the time. And in terms of helping me write, I suspect it would be something of an indulgence. So I won't.
None at all. Do you need one? Don't know.
Been published. People seem to like my stories.
Best education I have had with regards to writing is through various critique groups, talking to other writers, and not thinking I know it all.
I’m in the same boat as you, OP. Trained by the YouTube Sanderson Lectures only, lol. As such, I can't say definitively, but it seems to me with most things (not just writing) if you immerse yourself in the space with forums and books and online lectures, you can learn all but the most technical of fields far better than from sitting in a classroom.
immerse yourself in the space with forums and books and online lectures
Yeah, I like this, I think it's a good answer. I find the problem here is two-fold though. First you have to divise a filter for ignoring advice (no matter how well intentioned) from misguided sources, and secondly you have to find high-quality sources who you do listen to. Of course, both of those are easier to do once you have some knowledge of your own!

The second is the reason I've hung around here for the last 2 1/2 years, btw. There are a number of fantastic writers around here. I asked the question partly because I was curious about how those people "got good" in the first place.

I guess the benefit of a formal course is that someone has already done some filtering for you, presumably the teachers were hired because somebody thought they would teach well. Or you could take the other approach and look for courses by someone you think is fantastic. I don't fancy going all the way to the states to get feedback from Sanderson in person unfortunately.
Somewhere between none and some. No formal training in creative writing apart from what we did at school, but I did do an English degree (albeit no creative writing in it). I've (distant past now) worked in book publishing/magazine editing but no formal training there either, just on the job stuff.

I've done some free online courses but not sure I'd call them formal training - Holly Lisle's free flash fiction course and a free poetry course from FutureLearn. But they were basics, not in-depth. I've also read approximately one million books on writing.

Ultimately the best way to learn, I think, is to read a lot and write a lot.

Saying that, if I had time and money I'd love to do something like a creative writing MA.

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