As a writer myself, I think there are very few talents or “crafts” that are quite worth honing just as much as creative writing. Creative writing is a skill utilized by workers in a vast array of professions. You don’t have to be a world-class novelist plucking away at a typewriter or scrawling down prose with a fountain pen in order to benefit from creative writing training. In fact, some of the most concrete, black and white professions I know of utilize creative writing or some variation of it on a daily basis.
If you’re new to creative writing, you might be wondering what the best way to improve your skills might be. The best answer to this question? Lots of practice! The easiest way to become a better writer is to write as often as you can.
Aside from that, though, there are a few easy ways you can build your expertise. One of the best is to take a class taught by an established, talented, and intuitive instructor. I sat down one afternoon to take the Creative Writing: Crafting Personal Essays with Impact Course Review, a short class taught by Roxane Gay on Skillshare.
Here are my thoughts.
What is Creative Writing – and Why Should You Take This Course?
Creative writing is writing – plain and simple. Many people assume that creative writing deals only with the production of lengthy novels or flowing poetry, but the reality is that creative writing is a much larger, more expansive discipline that is necessary in a wide variety of industries.
If you like to write or simply want to hone your skills for your job, you might want to consider taking a class in creative writing. While you can certainly learn the ropes through trial and error, one of the best ways to fast track your skills development is by taking a class from a seasoned professional.
Creative writing is, simply put, writing that involves the use of imagination and requires you to think outside the box, making it a versatile skill that is necessary for just about anybody.
What Kinds of Content Does the Course Cover?
In this first section of the course, you’ll be introduced to Roxane Gay and understand exactly why she is teaching the class. Gay gives an overview of her credentials and tells instructors why she is passionate about creative writing and is teaching this course.
Start With Your Why
Gay starts off the main section of the course by detailing the importance of finding your “why” as a writer.
Lots of writers begin by saying they want to change the world with their writing but have no idea of how they will get there. Many times, in nonfiction, the goal is to increase awareness of a topic, so it’s important that you think of your intended call to action, whether you want to change the way your reader thinks about a given topic, or inspire the reader to share their own story.
Gay encourages students to think about how they can guide their readers with subtle examples from their own lives by using the rhetorical appeals of ethos, pathos, and logos.
Key Idea: Looking Inward and Outward
In the next section of the class, Gay will walk you through a main idea of writing – looking inward and outward. Both your voice and communication style matter but it’s important to think about how you will communicate your ideas. It’s not enough just to want to share your idea with the world – you also need to be able to identify why someone might care about your story or what you have to say about the world. In other words, you have to look both inward and outward.
Gay walks students through techniques they can incorporate to be able to look inward and outward in their writing – and to both outreach and connect with their readers.
Key Idea: When Truth Matters
Another key idea that Gay touches upon in this course is the idea of when truth matters. Creative nonfiction is the act of treating the truth of a story and using elements of storytelling to tell that story. She walks through the difference between enhancing and lying – and how not knowing the difference can get you in trouble.
Being honest in your writing is important for your professional integrity and writing career. However, it’s also important that you aren’t so married to the truth that it affects your writing in a negative way. Think of the events and details that matter and don’t be afraid of using creativity where it’s necessary. Again, Gay will walk you through ways you can do this in a way that is intentional and honest.
Key Idea: Read to Know What Works
Next, you’ll learn one of the best ways to become a better creative writer – you need to read more writing! There are essays published every day that can serve as a valuable source of inspiration. Seeking examples from other writers is essential to help you grow as a writer. It will help you grow and learn every single day.
Not only will this kind of experience teach you what to write, but it will teach you what not to write. You can learn from the triumphs as well as the mistakes of other writers.
The next module of the course deals with conducting research before you write. As a nonfiction writer, research is important to help give you familiarity with what you are talking about before you talk about.
There are many ways you can go about doing your research, which Gay outlines in the course. She recommends first identifying what you need to know to become credible on your topic. Even if you think you are aware of the topic and relatively skilled in writing about it, you need to go deeper. Come up with a list of questions you have about the topic and think about what kinds of questions your readers might have – and then come up with answers to those questions.
Being informed is the best thing you can do to prepare yourself while writing a detailed, effective, and beautiful essay. It will also help you fend off naysayers because you will be able to acknowledge multiple points of view and ways of thinking about a given topic.
Write Your First Draft
Now, the moment you’ve been waiting for – learning how to write your first draft! Gay advises authors to avoid overthinking the process of looking both inward and outward and urges them to instead just start writing. She recommends writing a first draft to share all the details and offer testimony of an experience first – you can always go back in and adjust after you’ve gotten everything out on the first try.
In this section, Gay includes several other effective strategies that will help you out as you begin the process of writing your first draft.
Revise Your Work
I was a bit surprised by what Gay had to say in this section – she is not as big of a fan as constant revising as other professional writers profess to be. She uses the process of revision to “re-see” her writing after a period of distance, but does not recommend constantly revising your work.
Here, in this module, you’ll learn about how to revise your draft without overworking in. Believe it or not, nine drafts are not necessary!
The next section of the course was, to me, surprisingly brief given the large scope of this topic. Gay provides students with some helpful recommendations as you are seeking to get yourself published (just a hint – reading often is one of those tips, adn she’ll tell you all about why that’s the case).
In the final section of the course, you’ll wrap up the material and review some next steps you can take. Gay encourages students to share their writing, either via Skillshare or another platform, and to get involved as they showcase their writing.
The Course & The Instructor
This class is one of more than 20,000 available for students at a nominal fee on the online course platform Skillshare. It’s taught by Roxane Gay and has been completed by more than 23,188 students at the time of writing this article.
A good option for students of all skill levels, it provides detailed instructions (all in a one-hour masterclass!) about how you can improve your writing and transform your storytelling skills. Roxane Gay, the instructor, is an editor, professor, and writer who is best known for her thoughtful, insightful writing on pivotal topics like race, culture, gender identity, and more.
Gay is the author of the best-selling essay collections Difficult Women, Hunger, and Bad Feminist. Her work has also appeared in Tin House, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, Virginia Quarterly Review, and McSweeney’s and she regularly contributes to the New York Times. She also wrote World of Wakanda for Marvel and has several books, film, and television projects that are currently in the works.
In this class, Gay will tell you everything you need to know to become a masterful and thoughtful creative writer.
The Skillshare Platform
I have taken online courses through a variety of providers. In addition to the (extremely expensive!) courses I took in a remote setting while earning my master’s degree through a state university, I have also taken online classes through massive open online course providers like Udemy and LinkedIn Learning.
Skillshare is another platform that is definitely worth learning more about. This website allows you to learn a variety of skills by watching video lecture series and completing supplementary materials (if the course offers them) such as additional readings and worksheets. Skillshare is also home to interactive community spaces where you will be able to share your work and provide feedback to other students.
Most of the classes here are creative in nature, offering users a wide range of content with a focus on skills in that area. The beauty of Skillshare is that just about anybody can design and teach a course – however, that’s also one of its disadvantages.
While most of the courses I have taken on Skillshare have been taught by talented, dedicated instructors with a wealth of experience in their respective topics, that’s not always the case. There’s no guarantee that your instructor will be worth his weight in salt, nor that he will participate in any kind of community features. There’s also limited room for feedback, something that’s unfortunately all too common when you’re taking an online course.
When it comes to pricing and availability, Skillshare is more or less the middle ground option between LinkedIn Learning – a more expensive monthly plan – and Udemy – a platform that offers a multitude of free courses in addition to courses that are individually priced (rather than requiring you to pay for a membership).
There are several pricing plans available for Skillshare, including a free level, a trial, a premium membership, and team accounts. If you opt for a free account, keep in mind that you’ll have to sit through ads and you might not be able to see the entire catalog of classes. An added benefit of the paid annual membership is that it gives you access to affiliate discounts with companies like Adobe Creative Cloud, Shutterstock, Squarespace, and more, too.
Related: Skillshare Review
Major Benefits of Taking This Course
Instruction from a Skilled Practitioner
This course is taught by an expert writer who has a lot to offer both new and inexperienced writers alike. She is engaging and offers clear instruction paired with actionable steps.
Gay’s teaching style is smooth and mellifluous – hse is incredibly easy to understand and gives students simple steps they can take to improve their writing.
Clear Learning Objectives
Before taking any class, but especially an online class, I think it’s important to sit down and review the objectives cited by the course instructor. In reviewing the objectives, I tend to get a good idea of what I’m expected to learn by the time the class is over. This is a great way for me to gauge whether the class is right for me and if it matches up with my skills and goals.
This class has the following learning objectives, each of which is delivered with actionable tactics, example essays, video lessons, and realistic guidance:
- Find a specific purpose for telling your story
- Connect your work to larger conversations and timely themes
- Conduct crucial research to support your work
- Navigate personal memories to write your truth
- Write and revise your final work
- Submit your work for publication
Want to know where you stand with your work? You can upload your work to the class projects section of the course. You can upload the first bit of progress you’ve made toward an idea, a full draft, or even a polished final copy. Regardless, you’ll be able to reach out for creative support and collaboration.
Gay also includes a helpful PDF of notes, reactions, and reflection as well as a worksheet that you can use once you reach the revision stage of your draft. This will provide you with the resources necessary to improve your work on your own.
This is a neat feature that I’ve only ever seen on Skillshare. It enables students to share their work with the instructor and with their fellow classmates to receive feedback and get further guidance.
Although this isn’t true of all Skillshare membership plans, I have the free trial plan that enabled me to download this class to watch it offline. I thought this was a helpful feature, since I don’t always want to have to sit at my desktop or in front of my cell phone while I’m completing a class. I like to be able to get up and get other things done while I’m working, which I could when taking this course.
As with many other courses on Skillshare, this one also comes with a handy discussion section. Here, you will find comments and notes from other users. This can be helpful as you’re planning to take the course – it will give you an idea of things to look out for. You can also get a feel for common pitfalls and complaints from students who have taken the class in the past.
Overall, Gay’s course and instructor reviews are positive.
Another helpful feature of this class is that Gay offers multiple links to further reading and resources.
She will give you “Take Action” slides (which she references at the end of the class), the revision worksheet, and multiple publishing links for websites like Poets and Writers, Writer’s Market, and Duotrope. Gay also gives you links to essays she discusses in her lessons and a list of recommended reading. She links to her own writing, too, in case you want to see more of the options that she has available for you to learn firsthand from her craft.
Looking to take this class to satisfy your English 101 college requirements? Unfortunately, it’s probably not going to fit the bill. That’s because this class does not come with any kind of credentials or certificates to show that you completed it.
For me, that was the biggest complaint I had about the class. Although I only took the course for fun, I can see how the class could easily be disappointing for students wishing to showcase their expertise in a more formal way. That’s one of the major drawbacks of taking classes on Skillshare, in fact.
While other course platforms, like LinkedIn Learning and Udemy, offer students proof of completion in the form of certificates and other credentials, that is usually not the case with courses offered on Skillshare.
Some of the other complaints I had were echoed by fellow students who reviewed the course. Some students wrote that it was frustrating to reach the end of the course without any kind of feedback from instructors on their submissions. While this is true for many online courses and course platforms, it’s easy to see why this would be aggravating.
I’ve taken many online courses in the past, and other platforms – like Udemy and LinkedIn Learning – usually offer feedback in the form of self-guided quizzes meant to be taken at the end of each course module.
These are helpful for me because they indicate whether I’ve mastered the material in the course or whether I should go back and review the content. If you’re a self-guided learner, like I am, you might not necessarily need constant reassurance from an instructor, but having a bit of support when it comes to mastering the course content, even if it’s just in the form of self-assessments and automated quizzes, is important.
If you like Roxane Gay’s teaching style, I have some bad news for you – this is the only class that she teaches on Skillshare. You’ll have to read her books if you want to hear more from her.
However, if you are simply interested in expanding your creative writing chops, you might want to take another high-quality course on Skillshare. Some of the most popular options include:
- Creative Writing: Begin with the Body by Chelsea hodson
- How to Get Published: A Step-by-Step Guide to Submitting Your Writing by Rachel Mindell
- Creative Writing: Pro Tips and Prompts to Get You Journaling Everyday by “Ashley”
- Creative Writing: Using Your Mistakes to Power Your Personal Essays by Emily Gould
Who is the Creative Writing: Crafting Personal Essays with an Impact Course on Skillshare Best For?
The Creative Writing: Crafting Personal Essays with Impact course on Skillshare is a class that I believe anybody could benefit from. No matter how dull you might think it is, you have a story to tell – and knowing how to tell it effectively and with the right amount of panache is essential to getting your message across.
Although there were certainly some drawbacks to taking this class, I ultimately felt that it was a great way to spend an afternoon. I highly recommend developing and experienced creative writers alike.