I had decided to enrol on an online course in writing short stories.
Why short stories? Mainly because I’d been writing them for a few years and not had any publication success, and wanted to see what I may have been doing wrong via learning and constructive criticism, but also to hopefully gain some confidence to keep going.
Why online, though? There were a number of reasons for that – the flexible timing (I would struggle to commit to a certain evening each week), location (at home, or wherever you happened to be!), the availability of more experienced tutors and, of course, cost.
I decided on the Writing Short Fiction course from the Professional Writing Academy after a little research.
The process of giving feedback to other students is interesting, and allows you to reflect on your own work as well as being useful to others.
– Ian Dodsworth
It’s split into six sessions, each lasting a week. Each session covers a particular topic of short story writing such as point of view, character, setting and more of the essentials.
Sessions opened on a Monday, when you could listen to the introductory podcast, read the notes from the tutor, see the reading materials (usually example short stories) and the writing exercises for the week.
The exercises are key to getting the most out of the course. There are usually two or three exercises per session which you can post up to the discussion board (some I did, some I didn’t), but the main drive of the session is the final exercise — writing 500-1,000 words and posting it to the forum.
Each writer receives feedback from the other students on the course, and in turn gives feedback to others.
Feedback from the course tutor — Mark Jervis, in the case of Writing Short Stories – is also given, and is invaluable.
The process of giving feedback to other students is interesting, and allows you to reflect on your own work as well as hopefully being useful to the others. This feedback between students and the tutor is, of course, the main focus to get the most out of the course.
For my final submission, I decided to explore one of my pieces from an earlier session in more detail. It was when I was reworking this piece that I realised how much the previous sessions had actually helped improve my writing.
– Ian Dodsworth
The learning process
Although we were a small group, this meant everyone received feedback from everyone else, and that Mark could go into more detail in his feedback than he might have been able to do otherwise.
Each week had an interesting premise for the exercises. It gave enough scope to come up with something original, but also led you enough to make sure you came up with something relevant to the subject at hand.
An added bonus during the course was a webchat with Chris Fielden, which generated lots of interesting discussion, including tips for getting stories published.
The last session lasts two weeks. This final chapter is designed for you to bring together all of the knowledge and experience from the previous sessions and come up with a complete short story, which is then reviewed by the other students and the tutor.
For my final submission, I decided to explore one of my pieces from an earlier session in more detail. It was when I was reworking this piece that I realised how much the previous sessions – not to mention the give-and-take feedback process – had actually helped improve my writing.
I wanted to get more of an insight into the structure of short stories, and I wanted feedback on my work, to see if it would be worth me continuing and submitting work for publication. Both of these targets were definitely met.
– Ian Dodsworth
There were two main things that I wanted to get out of the course:
Firstly, I wanted to get more of an insight into the structure of short stories; and secondly, I wanted to get feedback on my work, to see if it would be worth me continuing and submitting work for publication.
Both of these targets were definitely met.
The structure of the course meant that it was easy to pick up tips for writing short stories (these tips are almost all also useful for longer form fiction), and the feedback from both the other students and Mark gave me a great deal of confidence to keep going.
So, in summary, would I recommend online writing courses for short fiction, and the Professional Writing Academy in particular?
Without a doubt, although you have to be professional about it — being online means that there’s nobody over your shoulder cracking the whip.
A week per session means that it can be very intense, but making sure that you give yourself enough time each week means that you’ll get the most out of it.
This includes time to do the required reading, all of the writing exercises (two or three a week, and the 1,000 word or so final piece) and giving feedback.
You won’t regret it.