Online Writing Classes: Enroll Now in Free and Cheap MOOCs

by Marylee MacDonald in Learn How to Write

Online writing classes can save you from a world of hurt. Rejection from agents. Bong letters from publishers. Or, if you’re self-pubbing it, no sales on Amazon. Aspiring writers have passion and desire. However, it’s often hard for a new writers to put their stories into words. So, how do you learn to write? Well, first you study.

In the old days writers learned from older writers or picked apart novels and tried to figure out the craft. Some studied writing in school.

In a 1941 Paris Review interview with Steven Marcus, author Normal Mailer said this:

When I first began to write again at Harvard. I wasn’t very good. I was doing short stories all the time, but I wasn’t good. If there were fifty people in the class, let’s say I was somewhere in the top ten. My teachers thought I was fair, but I don’t believe they ever thought for a moment that I was really talented. Then in the middle of my sophomore year I started getting better. I got on the Harvard Advocate, and that gave me confidence, and about this time I did a couple of fairly good short stories for English A-1, one of which won Story magazine’s college contest for that year. I must say that Robert Gorham Davis, who was my instructor then, picked the story to submit for the contest and was confident it would win.

After World War II, writers took correspondence courses. Newly released from nearly freezing to death in a Siberian gulag, Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, a mathematician by training, took a correspondence course in literature from Moscow University. While working on that course, he wrote his short novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, a book that sent shock waves through post-Stalinist Russia. Solzhenitsyn launched a career that eventually led to a Nobel Prize.

Online Classes in Creative Writing

Today, instead of correspondence courses, universities in North America offer online classes in Creative Writing. Those classes cost a lot of money.

That’s why I am thrilled to tell you about online writing classes you can afford. These online writing classes are free or cheap.  You don’t even need to be a high school or university graduate to enroll. If there is a cost, it will be modest, and you can apply for financial aid.

Online Writing Classes Offered Through MOOCs

A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course that delivers free content, via the internet, to an audience of unlimited size.

MOOC online writing classes

MOOCs are online classes designed for a worldwide audience, including people in developing countries.

MOOCs originated from work being done  by professors at Stanford, MIT, and McGill universities. The first classes had to do with how students interacted in an online learning environment. A second experiment arose from professors studying artificial intelligence. Although the emphasis in MOOCs is still on computer and business skills, you can find great values and topnotch instruction in creative writing.

Anant Agarwal

Anant Agarwal, a professor at MIT, came from a poor village. Now the President of the non-profit, he believes that online classes can bring job skills to the furthest corners of the globe.

As a result of Agarwal and other pioneers, three non-profits offer free and cheap online classes. These are,, and

Are MOOCs’ Online Classes Really Free?

Yes, in most circumstances, MOOCs’ classes cost nothing. And in cases where they’re not free, the cost per class is a tenth of what you might pay for a similar class offered through a university’s extension program.

  • Free to auditors
  • Sometimes free if self-paced
  • Modest payments
  • Financial aid available

You can enroll in self-paced classes any time. You’ll learn from online videos and by completing the project assignments. The courses may have cutoff dates. If you don’t finish the course, you won’t have access to course material. Other classes begin and end and have project goals, assignment due dates, and peer feedback.

For writing courses, it’s obviously an advantage to have feedback from faculty and peers, so there’s sometimes a very small fee, but nothing like what you’d pay if you were to enroll in a university’s online course. Financial aid is available to those who need it.

On the down side, MOOCs’ online classes have had a 90% dropout rate. If you’re going to enroll, you’ll need extra discipline to make yourself do the work. Later on, you’ll have to wean yourself off this form of structured learning and figure out how to impose deadlines on yourself.

However, with help from the structure of a MOOC, you can learn about the craft issues involved in writing. By that I mean how to create characters, devise a plot, and develop your own, unique writing style.

Compare to Low-Residency MFA Programs

Any writer working on his or her own may not realize that university MFA (Master’s in Fine Arts) programs graduate huge numbers of creative writers every year. These are not just beginning writers. These MFA graduates studied with the most renowned writers in the country.

If you look at the educational backgrounds of Scott Turow, John Irving, John Grisham–or, to go further back, John Steinbeck–you’ll find that all of them spent two or more years in university creative writing programs. For two years or more, these successful writers lived and breathed creative writing in small class seminars. The Creative Writing programs at the University of Iowa and Stanford are renowned.

Now, many universities–such as Warren Wilson and Vermont College–offer “away” programs. The schools award a Master’s in Creative Writing, but students work with classmates and faculty mentors largely online. Twice a year the students and faculty in these low residency programs come together for face-to-face meetings. If you’d like to learn more about these, here’s an article that compares the least expensive of them. By least expensive, I mean $5,700 a year.

That’s why I say MOOCs are an extremely good deal. MOOCs teach the fundamentals, and you won’t go into debt.

Totally Free Online Classes at

FutureLearn’s classes are free. These are a couple of examples, but more come online all the time, so check back.

Start Writing Fiction – This 8-week class begins October 2017 and it’s FREE. The hands-on course helps you to get started with your own fiction writing. You’ll focus on the central skill of creating characters.

An Introduction to Screenwriting – This 2-week class is also FREE. You’ll explore the key concepts and fundamental principles involved in the process of screenwriting.

Online Classes Offered Through

Go the the main site and type “writing” in the search box.

You’ll learn that they off a 5-course “Creative Writing Specialization.” Coursera offers classes continuously. The Specialization covers elements of three major creative writing genres: short story, narrative essay, and memoir. If you opt for the short story track, you’dd spend four weeks each on plot, character, setting and description, and style. Each class in the sequence costs $295. At the end, you will do a 7-week “Capstone project,” meaning you will write a complete short story and revise it.

“You will master the techniques that good writers use to compose a bracing story, populated with memorable characters in an interesting setting, written in a fresh descriptive style. You will analyze and constructively evaluate peer writing. In the Capstone, you will draft, rewrite, and complete a substantial original story in the genre of your choosing.

Our courses are designed for anyone from the aspiring short story writer to established novelist. Whether you have a finished novel sitting on your desk calling for a fresh look or have had the germ of an idea for a decade, this Specialization gives you tools to achieve your goal. Through 4 courses focused on a key aspect of writing, and taken in any order you choose, you will develop a stronger ability to not only refine your writing, but critique writing in general and find inspiration in the works you are already reading.”

The Faculty Makes This a Standout Program

What’s amazing to me–and what could be a real opportunity for you–is the outstanding Faculty: Salvatore Scibona, Amy Bloom, Brando Skyhorse, and Amity Gaige. These are all well known writers. When you reach the Capstone level, presumably these folks will have a look at your work.

Coursera online classes

An outstanding faculty makes Coursera’s online classes the equivalent of those in any major university. Though offered through Coursera, the classes are actually taught by faculty at Wesleyan University.

Goodies for Those Who Do the Work

But learning how to write and revise a short story isn’t the only benefit. When you complete your first assignment, you’ll get big discounts from the program’s sponsors. Write-Bros screenwriting software comes with an 80% discount. You can also get a 30% discount from Scrivener. This is the software I use to write my novels.

With MOOCs, not only do you get great instruction. You also get a huge discount on tools to help you write. In my next post I’ll tell you about a course that’s specifically focused on novel writing, so stay tuned.

For more Writing Tips, click here.





5 Responses to “Online Writing Classes: Enroll Now in Free and Cheap MOOCs”

  1. Hi Marylee, I wanted to let you know because of your post, I signed up and finished the 8-week Future Learn Writing Fiction course. It was wonderful! I’ve read many many books, and purchased a few targeted writing courses, but never had any type of university training.

    I’d highly recommend this course to anyone wanting to learn how to write fiction. The instructors and authors were wonderful, and the feedback on my work invaluable. You truly feel as if you are in the classroom with others around the world learning right alongside you. Thanks for sharing!

    • I am so thrilled to hear that the experience was a good one. Honestly, these MOOCs have great courses, and there is always financial aid available. I’m so glad you finished the course!!! Are you going to try another one?

    • You’ve got a lot going on with your writing, too! Eight books on Amazon!!! Woo hoo.

  2. Tom Southern says:

    Hello Marylee,

    Thanks for this information. I’d heard of MOOCs before and your article reminded me again. I’m definitely checking out Coursera. One limitation about correspondence and their present day equivalents, is that you miss out on the lifestyle offered by universities. But, I’ve not been to university, so I suppose I’m only going on what I’ve heard of student life.

    I’ve taken correspondence courses before. One a writing course which I didn’t complete because I didn’t agree with the feedback, it was just made without knowing all the facts, e.g. an article I wrote for a older people’s magazine came back with the comment: ‘why would the readership be interested in the experiences of a nineteen year old?’ [This was over 30 years ago]. I was 19 but had had an article already accepted by this same magazine because it featured interviews with ‘older people’, as did the article criticised. Still, feedback and criticism is individual.

    I’m still open to courses and seek out feedback. I’m off to a writers’ conference next week to get as much of it as I can from agents and book doctors.

    Thanks again for this useful info, Marylee.

    – Tom

    • Hi Tom,
      The thing about these MOOCs is that writers can possibly pick up a tip or two that might be useful. Another plus is that MOOCs invite you into a “community.” So often the people at our workplaces, or even in our families, don’t understand the itch that makes us want to write. Writers’ conferences are great places to get that kind of affirmation, too.

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