How to create an online writing course

If you’re anything like me, you like to “learn by doing.” I’m a big reader, but I’m not big on technical manuals or marketing guides. So when I want to do something like create an online writing course, my tendency is to dive right in and assume that I will figure it out as I go. This is how I created Fiction’s Big-Picture Fundamentals.

Naturally, mistakes were made. My hope is that by naming these mistakes, I can help others avoid them.

How I Made an Online Writing Course

It almost goes without saying that you should be a writer or a writing teacher. Or an editor.

1. I decided I wanted to create an online course.

2. I had three course ideas: a) Fiction’s Big-Picture Fundamentals, b) Create a Rich Story World, and c) Build a Great Story.

3. Decided to create all three simultaneously, to batch the work and give writers some choice about which best fit their needs.

*** This was a mistake. I learned later that it’s better to create and run one course at a time, because a) you can apply your lessons from that course to the next one, and b) launching a course is quite a bit of work***

4. I hired a brilliant friend to investigate platforms (i.e., Teachable, Thinkiffic, etc.)

5. Picked a platform (Teachable)

6. I wrote the content and rehearsed each script.

7. I created each slide deck in PowerPoint to illustrate the points visually, and created the timed writing sessions.

8. I filmed dozens of hours of myself talking my way through the scripts in an unairconditioned office during the infamous ‘heat dome’ of 2021.

*** This was a mistake. My office at the time overlooked a commercial laneway with trucks unloading. Heat wave, no A/C, and I couldn’t open the window. My face is purple in the vids.***

*** But this mistake was also helpful, because I learned how to relax in front of the camera as I went. Despite being comfortable teaching in person and online, when I filmed the videos for the first course I was so nervous that my face hardly moved. I looked terrified…because I was! ***

9. I hired the same friend to merge the slides and videos into lessons / modules. She is excellent at this, by the way. It was not a mistake at all.

10. I belatedly joined a Mastermind group run by Malini Devadas on how to create online courses. This is where I found out how many mistakes I’d already made!

11. So I picked one of the 3 courses to focus on: Fiction’s Big-Picture Fundamentals. It was in the best shape and closest to being publishable.

12. I decided on a launch date.

13. Told hardly anyone what I was doing

***This was a mistake. If people don’t know about your course, they can’t take it.***

14. Created a sales page to describe the course.

15. The act of writing the sales page revealed a weakness. The course was trying to do too many things. It needed to be simplified and divided into more modules.

16. Rearranged the structure, which meant new slides.

17. Decided to make it interactive by adding video coworking sessions / Q&As.

18. Did voiceovers for the new slides–it was too close to launch date to refilm, besides which I was working hard on other stuff–like teaching a course for editors through Editorial Arts Academy, editing manuscripts, and writing a novel. Ha ha!

19. I asked a couple of writers to test drive the course.

***This was the absolute best thing to do, and I really lucked out with the writers. They gave me excellent, honest about feedback what worked and what needed work. Highly recommend having real people beta test your course. ***

20. Launched the course

21. Created the downloads as I went.

***This was silly, as the writers could work through one or two modules a week and sometimes the downloads weren’t ready. Or weren’t relevant enough.***

22. Led the live coworking sessions, which were tremendously fun and interesting.

23. Asked for and received feedback from the guinea pig writers.

24. Picked a launch date for the second cohort.

25. Decided what to change

26. Started changing it

And that brings us up to date.

Here are the numbers:

  • Sweat equity: 1,000,000,000,000 gallons
  • Hours spent on course creation and videotaping myself (for all 3 courses): About 200-250 (I stopped tracking).
  • Cash spent: about $2,800, which includes my brilliant friend, six months in a mastermind group, online course platform, and software programs (Teachable, PowerPoint, Adobe DC Pro, iMovie, Canva Pro).

What I’d do differently

Focus on one course at a time. You’ll learn how to do the next one more efficiently.

Understand your potential students’ core issue(s) around the topic and create the course to solve these issues.

Write the sales page before you create the course, to give yourself clear focus.

Don’t be perfectionistic around the design, because it’ll probably change.

Get comfortable in front of the camera before you start filming.

What I’d do the same

Have a launch date.

Create a cohort and ‘drip-feed’ the content so everyone’s doing the same modules in the same week.

Ask for honest feedback, and act on it.

Overall assessment

I made an online course! I like it, I think it helps writers (especially unpublished ones), and I’m going to make more.