The Professional Writing Academy Story

Founding directors Christina Bunce and Susannah Marriott explain how they started the Professional Writing Academy.

We met on a beach. Between us, we had years of experience both in publishing and developing online communities. Later we gained a decade of experience in teaching writing and educational technology as we set up the world’s first fully online MA in writing.

But we were frustrated with writing education. Universities were all about formal academic objectives rather than what the student wanted to achieve. And there was little on offer for writers who just wanted to get things written and were unable to travel to expensive workshops or give up a year to MA study.

We saw a different way of nurturing talent, and together we started the Professional Writing Academy (PWA) at Christina’s kitchen table. Our vision was to create an accessible place online where writers could come to learn regardless of their background, level of experience and location — at a time of the day or night that suited them. And to offer a learning path that allowed writers to make their own map and navigate to different destinations as they progressed.

It was at London Book Fair that we took our first leap of faith. We tracked down the CEO of a company we wanted to work with just as he was leaving, bike helmet in hand. With nothing but an idea, we managed to convince him we had everything in place to make PWA work. It paid off, and with the support of our first client we began to assemble a very special team of like-minded people: tutors, editors, technologists, holistic therapists, all of them practising writers and editors, all of them lovely people. We only work with people we like and who share our vision. That creates a really vibrant, nurturing and productive atmosphere for our students.

As interest in our courses began to build, so did the realisation that we couldn’t give PWA the attention it needed while working full-time in other jobs. Despite our faith in the company, we were both sole breadwinners with young families and it was a huge risk. After agonising discussions — involving plenty of gin — we decided to hold hands and leap into the unknown.

3,500 students and 28 courses later, here we are. Our sleeper trains to London soon turned into planes to India, and course participants from all walks of life starting meeting as a community in our online classrooms — completing writing assignments and critiquing each others’ work up mountains, under tables in war-zones, or while flying for business across the world. Our team of teaching, marketing and tech staff are also all over the world — some we met on beaches, some on Twitter, but most were our students.

We know that success means something different for every writer. That could be a traditional publishing deal for a novel. But it could also mean finding the courage to express something in words for the first time, or learning a skill that makes a practical difference at work. Among our success stories is the bestselling work of literary fiction of 2016, the author who secured her first publishing deal at 60 and the 18-year old who shared her short stories for the first time.

Talent and ability take many forms and we like to think we have a way to nurture both, while offering the professional approach that enables students to reach their writing goals, be that quiet personal satisfaction or worldwide acclaim.