Have you ever taken a writing course?
Have you considered creating a course yourself?
As I’ve now written two online courses and have started work on my third, I thought that some students and teachers of writing might be interested in the way I approach designing and writing my writing courses. I hope that this post can give you inspiration with your own course creation, or if you’re a student at the Lady Writers League, that it can help you understand why the courses are structured the way that they are.
I know that many of you have been waiting a long time for my writing courses to re-open, so in case you missed the announcement email, I thought I would let you know that The One Page Novel and How to Be the Heroine of Your Own Story are currently open for enrolment!
Plot Your Course
I can’t quite remember when I came up with my creative writing trivium…
- Plot (The One Page Novel),
- Character (How to Be the Heroine of Your Own Story),
- and World (How to Lose Yourself in a World of Your Invention).
… but I must have been really tuned in that day, because over the past couple of years these titles and the approach that they represent have become my life’s curriculum (a future CV?) and really helped to give me a sense of purpose and direction.
I think there’s great value in outlining, not only what topics you need to cover, but also the ways in which the process of creating your courses can enrich your life, widen your fields of discourse, and help you grow. The structure that I alighted upon has led me to research topics and learn techniques that would never have occurred to me or landed on my path if I hadn’t taken a deep interest in its exploration.
This sort of holistic approach will probably evolve unconsciously, but here are a few worksheets that may help you with the bigger picture:
How about creating a course that changes the course of your life, or your career?
My Course Creation Process
01 | I begin, as I recommend in The One Page Novel, at the end. I ask myself what I would like to learn from a course, how I would like to learn it, how I would like it to make me feel, etc. And at this stage, I really don’t worry about what is practically possible. I write down all of the wildly outrageous topic titles that come to me, like: “how to create the entire cast for your story on one page”. This not only gives me a list of questions to answer, it also gets me really excited about finding the answers!
I’m also lucky in being able to draw from years of correspondence with writers on forums and via email and social media, to inform me of the problems that most people struggle with, and to which they have trouble finding elegant solutions.
02 | I start reading and researching. For The One Page Novel, I read every book on the subject of plotting that my library had to offer, beginning with manuals written for authors, then moving on to narratology, and then to mythic and spiritual stories.
For Heroine, I actually started out with literary criticism (my favourite subject at university!), but I also turned to mnemotechnics, and to scientific studies in psychology and cognitive science.
For How to Lose Yourself… who knows where it will take me? I’m currently reading up on cognitive poetics, pathworking, astral projection, and Daemon Voices.
03 | I start arranging everything together into a cohesive framework, and doing a lot of experimentation to make sure that the method works in practice. This means putting the method through its paces by using it to create stories in various genres. Because of my challenge of fitting everything on one page, it also involves trying out different layouts and paper-folding techniques. My favourite aspect of The One Page Novel layout is that it represents both the cyclical nature of the story, and the linear narrative in the form of the codex. With Heroine, I love that the layout forms an “H”, and that the pages can be stacked up to form a ladder.
These might seem gimmicky or superficial, but in my personal practice I’ve found that the layouts not only help me remember the methodology, they also help me visualise the big picture.
04 | I write and record the lessons. I have a few technical objectives for the lessons:
- They should make sense with or without the visuals, so that you can listen to them when you’re away from your computer, when you’re working offline, or when you’re just sitting at your desk with your notebook.
- It should be possible to work as you listen, so that learning and practice aren’t separate, and so that you get results as quickly as possible.
- They should be focused and concise, including only the most essential information required at that moment – there’s always the course textbook for more in-depth guidance.
- They should progress a little faster than is comfortable. Of course, it’s always possible to pause the recording, but I think that working quicker helps to release mental blocks, increase reliance on the unconscious, and create a pleasurable feeling of eustress. That’s why word sprints are my favourite writing exercise!
05 | I write the course textbook. The purpose of the textbook is to be a reference work that you can consult when you run into a problem. It isn’t meant to be read from cover to cover as a procrastination tactic! As such, I focus on making the articles as actionable and to-the-point as possible, and I try to include lots of exercises and worksheets to encourage you to work through problems rather than just think about them.
06 | I create bonus materials such as templates, cheatsheets, and supplementary lessons that can help support your learning once you’ve mastered the core methodology taught in the course.
My Course Creation Guidelines
Here are some of the tenets that I use to guide me in making decisions:
01 | As little preamble as possible. I think we can all agree that to be writers we need to love reading. But I remember many occasions on which I picked up a technical book on writing only to be dismayed when I discovered that before the author would teach me anything practicable, I would need to wade through several chapters about their own personal journey of discovery. I know, I’m sure they’re making an important point, and I certainly agree that there’s value in explaining why the method works, and in setting the tone… but with everything I create, I’m always hyper-aware that every minute the writer spends reading my textbook is a minute they spend not writing.
For me, the promise of an online course is that it can get you results faster than you can read the first chapter of a book.
02 | Unique. Part of this comes from taking a novel approach to the subject, but I think an even larger part is challenging yourself to deliver content that is miles better than anything else you’ve seen on the subject. After all, if what was already available satisfied you, you wouldn’t have started writing your own course!
03 | Simple enough to fit on one page. I’ve heard Rian Johnson talk about one-page storyboards in this interview, and Chris Hadfield recommends them for all areas of life in his Masterclass (affiliate link). The idea of fitting something as complex as the plot of a novel, the entire cast of a story, or the details of a story world onto one page is an extremely alluring idea, and the blank page is really the best tool I could have stumbled upon to help in simplifying a subject.
In my opinion, simplifying and systematising a complicated process is the whole point of creating online courses. I find that when I need to simplify an idea I often turn to some form of data presentation, and I would cite Edward Tufte’s Envisioning Information* as one of the biggest influences on my work. Whether you’re creating a simple table, schedule, or worksheet, I guarantee there will be something you can learn from this book about improving its effectiveness.
* Amazon affiliate link.
04 | Integrated. I think it’s essential that my courses build upon each other, but can also stand alone. Obviously, the plot, the characters, and the world need to work together seamlessly to create the story, but on a more practical level, I feel this structure also gives students more flexibility to choose which subjects to study. Sort of like a fiction series made up of stand-alone novels that interweave in a larger narrative.
05 | Memorable. One of the biggest advantages of the single-page framework is that it’s easy to remember. I try to enhance memorising as much as possible by using the page layout, by simplifying the method as much as I can, and by giving the various sections simple (and cohesive) titles.
I love the idea that I can close my eyes and visualise an entire story, even if I don’t have a piece of paper to hand!
06 | Aesthetics. I think aesthetics helps a lot with making the material memorable, both visually and symbolically. With Heroine, I particularly enjoyed exploring the symbolism of the apple, using images of blossoms, fruit, and espaliers. To me, personally, the apple recalls a long string of associations, beginning with my name, Eva, Eve, Paradise Lost, His Dark Materials, knowledge, wisdom, Snow White, nourishment, cultivation, grafting, training, and on and on…
07 | Applications for life. This was something I learned from Brendon Burchard – the idea of going beyond your chosen subject to teach your students something about life. Not a difficult task for stories, considering how deeply they’re embedded into our psyche!
08 | Ever-evolving. The beauty of an online course is that it isn’t static like a printed book or ephemeral like an in-person workshop (not that those aren’t worthwhile, by any means!). Self-paced online courses also have the advantage of being available to re-take over and over again. As such, I think it’s important to design courses to be ever-green, so that the information is as timeless as possible, but also to plan to continue updating the course as new information or insights become available.
Lifelong learning is foreva! :)