Distance Learning for Writers: Choosing the “Write” Course

www.inkthinkerblog.com — A Guest Post by Diana Nadin

So, you’re thinking of enrolling on a distance learning writing course? In my experience, here are some of the things you need to think about before you take the plunge.


  • Before you do anything, you should ask yourself whether you’re the kind of person who can self-motivate. Distance learning can be lonely and there is a temptation to enrol and then put off sending in your first assignment.  But, let’s be honest, if you can’t self-motivate then you’re never going to make it as a writer.
  • Next, do your searches and check review sites. You’re going to be sending a reasonable chunk of your hard-earned cash to the college, so you need to be sure that it’s reputable and not operating a scam.
  • Make sure you get a trial period. This is important because even when you’ve seen full details online or in a prospectus the depth or complexity of the material might not be what you expect.  If you’re a complete novice you want something basic – if you’ve already had a measure of success you want something more detailed.  A reputable college will have a ‘cooling off’ period and will refund your fees if you do not want to proceed and return the material within the stated period.
  • Ensure there is enough tutor feedback. This is a vital element of any distance learning course for writers.  How can you hope to improve if you don’t get constructive criticism and help from experts?  And the best thing about it is that you’re working privately on a one-to-one basis with your tutor.  You’re not in a class with other students having to read your work in front of them.  And if you’ve got a question that you think might sound silly or inexperienced, you can ask your tutor without anyone else knowing.
  • Check that the tutors are qualified and are writing NOW. You don’t want people who used to write but have been retired for years.  You need tutors who are familiar with current markets and current practice in the publishing industry.
  • You need to be able to study and submit your assignments in the way that suits you best. So, if you like working online – check that’s what you’ll be doing.  If you prefer printed booklets or submitting assignments by post then go for a college that offers that.  Also, look at the timescale.  You’re writing – not doing a sprint – and family/work issues can arise unexpectedly.  So, make sure the course allows enough time for you to enjoy it without feeling rushed or under pressure.
  • Finally, if you’re to get the best value from a course, you must be prepared to listen to advice. I don’t say you’ve got to take it – because at the end of the day, writing is a very subjective thing.  But you’ve got to be receptive, willing to weigh the pros and cons, and then you can make an informed decision.

I mentioned at the beginning that studying by distance learning can be a bit lonely.  So it helps if the college has a thriving student community where you can chat to others, share opinions – and hopefully successes.  Also essential is a Student Services team who can be contacted quickly if you need help with admin or have a problem with your tutor – and yes, even the best college can team you up with a tutor that’s not right for you.  If the college cares, they’ll be quick to find you a different tutor with whom you can build up a better rapport if you are not happy with the way your studies are going

About the Author

Diana Nadin has been Director of Studies at the Writers Bureau (www.writersbureau.com) since it was launched over 20 years ago.  She ensures that the courses are kept up-to-date; tutors provide helpful feedback to students and any questions you might ask are answered promptly and fully.  You can read her weekly blog at www.writersbureau.com/blog

Contents Copyright © 2006-2014 Kristen King

9 comments… add one
  • Isla McKetta Jun 27, 2012

    Great post, Diana. I attended a low-residency program for my MFA and one of the things that I wish I had thought to ask about before starting was community building. Classes are often a great way to meet people, but some programs (distance learning and low-residency) have better ways of building community online than others. I was very lucky that Goddard College’s community was so tight-knit and enduring.

  • Gail Cavanaugh Jul 5, 2012

    Distance learning courses are definitely suitable for those who are self-motivated. I was just learning about the Internet and computers, for that matter, when I started. Each class takes on a personality of its own, depending on the classmate, but for the most part, you learn how to work with others, rather tan on your own. I had to make adjustments to the method of learning, but it was worth it.

  • Kate Nov 17, 2012

    Good advice indeed. There are a lot of fly-by-night orgs offering distance learning courses these days and it is a “buyer beware” kind of market. If there is one more aspect to look at it would be this: Try to find out how much your tutur’s are being paid relative to your fees. Some companies are hiring starving writers and paying them very badly. It’s

  • Chuck Buerki Dec 20, 2012

    Found your blog via Lori Widmer’s. I should have read this information before I started my quest to achieve some learning via a large, and well known writers forum. Their marketing skills are light years ahead of their ability to deliver on their product, which was a series of on-line how to write lessons. At my neophyte stage what I got for my hard earned dollar was nothing more than “buy the suggested book and read our ‘lecture’ and every two weeks take a test and we’ll tell you how wrong you are, and by the way you can’t get your money back if you are not satisfied.

  • Courtney Dec 28, 2012

    I have been asked by friends how they could learn to do what I do for a living which is write website copy, articles, emails, and ads and my answer always scares them away. I recommend all of my favourite books about marketing, advertising, and copywriting. I send them my favourite websites about the topic too. I have yet to see a single one of them actually do anything after that. I think that everybody has a secret desire to be recognized as a professional writer. But very few people are motivated to put in the work.

  • Devon Ellington Feb 28, 2013

    All great points.

    And, as a teacher, i have a few more points to add, which feed into the self-motivation thing: Meet deadlines. Make the time to do the work. Don’t start, and then fade out or make excuses about why the work is late.

    I give my students an incredible amount of individualized time and commentary on their projects. But I am not available 24/7. If I’ve put aside X hours after the deadline to line edit and comment, being four or five days late doesn’t cut it. Too many students think that distance learning means they don’t have to meet deadlines – -you do. Many students also think I’m supposed to redesign the class to what they feel like doing. Um, no. You signed up, supposedly, because you were interested in the topic as presented, not in something that has nothing to do with it, because taking a class is cheaper than hiring an editor.

    Follow the exercise guidelines. There’s a reason exercises are developed in a specific way. Respect the time and work of the teacher and the others in the class.

  • Mutuelle pas chère Mar 12, 2013

    Yes ! ” we need to be able to study and submit your assignments in the way that suits you best. “

  • CollegeGuru Feb 20, 2014

    A very informative post for anyone who wants to do a distance learning course. Thanks for the post.

  • Ralph Quito Dec 4, 2017

    This is great! It is such a lovely article. It’s just amazing how you put all these together on “Distance Learning for Writers: Choosing the “Write” Course” with such great tips! Looking forward to more of these.

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