Confessions of an Online Class Junkie

Good morning! My name is Pam Crooks, and I’m an online class junkie.

There. I said it.

It’s an addiction of mine.  With eleven books and 3 more coming, you’d think I’d have this writing thing down, wouldn’t you? But the truth is, I’m always looking for that secret formula, some special weapon that would take away the uncertainty, sweep away the fears, and make my stories easier to write. So easy to write, I could do it blindfolded.

Ain’t gonna happen. At least, it hasn’t so far. Every book is agony. Every one scares the heck out of me. What if I fail, fail, fail?

So I turn to online classes to keep learning. Fourteen books doesn’t make anyone an expert, certainly not *me*, and I have learned great things from some of these classes. I marvel at the instructors who can nail down aspects of the craft that are only a haze in my mind.

Or maybe, it’s just pure instinct. I’m not sure. I manage to muddle my way through to the end of every manuscript, and maybe it’s the tidbits of information I glean from all these classes I take that get me there.
Firstly, online classes are the greatest invention since sliced bread. One doesn’t need to get into a car and drive to a classroom. No need to dress up. No need to watch a clock. No books to buy, no pencil to sharpen.

Every lecture drops into my Inbox to be read at my leisure. I can print them out, or I can delete them. I can participate in the discussions, or I can lurk. Cost is minimal—and in my case, a tax deduction, too!

For you RWA members out there, I belong to the Kiss of Death chapter, and their online classes are fab. It was through them I took my very first one, the reason I’m hooked. I take several classes a year, sometimes more.

In the past couple of years, I discovered Writer’s University. I’ve met Margie Lawson, one of their very respected teachers. She’s great fun, and her courses are incredible—the lectures are more than 200 pages long. I’ve signed up to take Mary Buckham’s class next spring on Pacing, and she’s awesome, too.

It was through Writer’s U in early 2007 that I discovered Gwen Schuster-Hayne’s class on Introverts and Extroverts, a course on marketing strategies based on one’s strengths. She so inspired me that I pulled together a group of western romance authors and formed a ten-author blog devoted solely to what we write.  I think you’ve heard of it–Petticoats & Pistols.

The blog’s success has been incredibly gratifying. Our hits are steadily climbing and breaking records. Our guest list is booked months in advance; authors return again and again. More importantly, our visitors do, too. We have a great time together, don’t we?

I never would’ve had the courage—or even the idea—if it hadn’t been for Gwen’s class. Perhaps I would never have had a book strong enough to go to auction, either, and eventually be bought by Harlequin (THE MERCENARY’S KISS) in 2004, if I hadn’t taken Suzanne Brockmann’s highly-acclaimed class on heroes, “Tall, Dark and Believable.” (If she ever teaches it again, run, don’t walk, to sign up. It’s the best class ever, taught by one of the best.)

More favorites? Tami Cowden’s Villain Archetypes. I swear by her book, Sixteen Hero/Heroine Archetypes, and the villain version didn’t disappoint.

Mary Buckham’s “Twelve Stages of Intimacy” is a great resource for any romance writer.

Though I write historical westerns, I’m fascinated by contemporary suspense. I’ve taken classes on how to disappear, sleuthing, plotting suspense, writing intrigue. I’ve taken classes on modern-day cowboys and hunky Delta Forces operatives. I’ve studied FBI agents, serial killers, kick-ass heroines and how to go undercover. And to top it all off—how to edit the manuscript once it was written.

Whew. I’m addicted, all right. And the proof of my addiction is a whole row of fat, white notebooks, neatly labeled on my shelf, close to my computer if I should need inspiration.

And believe me, I always do.

What about you? Have you taken some great online classes to teach yourself how to be a better writer? If so, what are they? Did they help? Or were they a waste of time and money for you?

If you’re not a writer, have you taken any non-credit classes through a local college just for fun?  Cake-decorating?  Flower-arranging?  Let us know!

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Pam has written 30 romances, most of them historical westerns, but her newest releases are contemporary sweet romances featuring the Blackstone Ranch series published by Tule Publishing. Stay up on the latest at

45 thoughts on “Confessions of an Online Class Junkie”

  1. I haven’t taken any of those classes…still “recovering” from getting my degree 🙂 But I would really enjoy cake-decorating, flower arranging and other “crafty” classes!

  2. Morning Pam!!

    I haven’t taken any online classes. Years ago I did a novel writing workshop through Writer’s Digest, but I didn’t finish it. Of course, that was ten years ago and I’ll admit, I didn’t take criticism well at all. I was really green and full of myself and became flustered with my instructor over her critiques and wasted a lot of money on something I gave up on too quickly.

    I feel awful about it now, but I can’t go back and change it. I was going through a rough time in a relationship with my then-fiance, so I wasn’t at a good place at all to be writing or taking critiques.

    It’s one of those, hindsight is 20/20 and if I knew then what I know now, I think it would have gone much better and I probably would have finished it.

    Truth is, when I started checking out blogs like P&P and others and joined RWA and my local chapter, that has actually helped me move forward more than anything, so far.

    Talking craft with other writers and learning about new things via research has brought me a long way from where I was about 2 years ago or even 10 years ago. I don’t feel like an outsider now, though I’m not published yet…I feel like a part of the writing community and appreciate how welcome everyone has made me feel and being in the “online” company of so many wonderful writers teaches me so much each and everyday. These are my “online classes” in a manner of speaking. ;o)

  3. Kathleen,

    Non-credit courses do wonders for our creativity. There’s no pressure, no tests, no grades. They’re purely for self-enrichment, and you know, I still use cake decorating techniques that I learned almost 25 years ago.

  4. Taryn, it sounds like that WD novel-writing class was a big endeavor for a newbie. No wonder you were overwhelmed!

    You are so much a part of our P&P community, and we love you to death! Joining RWA and your local chapter was a huge step toward getting published. Keep learning, kiddo. Keep soaking in all that knowledge, and it’ll happen.

  5. Hi Pam – I’m not a writer, but I have taken on-line courses — and I’ve not seen one entire course through. I don’t know what it is about on-line courses, but I let them pile up in my inbox, mark them for follow-up and then never follow through. I think I prefer learning new things at my own pace. Researching when I can, and trying things out…

    But I think it’s fascinating how you started this great blog –

  6. Hi Pam,

    I haven’t had the pleasure of taking the classes you’ve suggested. To be honest, I don’t even study the craft much

    Why? The time I spend studying I can write. Time is a precious commodity in my life. I know, I’m not much different from the rest of you. We’re all busy!

    I DO however, read voraciously and have learned the craft that way and I’ve learned so much from my editors. I can never thank them enough!

    I also check out writers magazines, newsletters and articles by authors on the craft and business of writing.

    So I guess, I am studying….just never considered reading for pleasure – studying. It’s more fun to consider it pleasure LOL!

    Great post.


  7. Pam I am not a writer and never will be I love to read other peoples stories and think wow if I could only do that. I am sure if I really put my mind to it and just did it I might be able to. With my life and the things we all go through my family tells me I need to write a book.
    I am so happy that you started the Petticoats & Pistols it is great I love reading it everyday I might not write but I do read it, it helps me get through the days when things are down. You all lift me up.
    I have taken some classes I have a ton more I would like to take, I have done some sewing classes, cermaics, cake decorating, cooking. I would love to take some more I just have to make the time to do it all.
    This my be a dumb question but who is Felica? On the blog page I must have gotten lost and was going to ask you or Cheryl who that was…

  8. Hi, Maria,

    One thing about online courses is that the motivation has to come from you–there’s no teacher to rap your knuckles with a ruler if you don’t pay attention! LOL.

    That can be a good thing – or a bad thing, depending I guess, eh?

  9. Hi, Pam T!

    We all have our ways of learning, don’t we? You’re finding different methods of inspiration, soaking in the information you find differently than I do. Doesn’t make it wrong, by any means.

    Just like we authors have different methods of writing. Some of us have to have detailed outlines–others fly into the mist.

    Whatever works, right?

  10. Hi, Brenda!

    I’m glad you enjoy Petticoats & Pistols so much. Readers like you are why we’re here every day, and I am amazed at how many friends the Fillies have made. It’s been wonderful, wonderful.

    Just too bad there aren’t more hours in the day, isn’t there? I find the older I get, the more thirsty for knowledge I get.

    At the same time, I wish I had more time to do things like sewing and cooking classes. They really do help fill the well when our jobs and families take so much out of us.

    And who is Felicia, you ask? She’s the head honcho here in Wildflower Junction. She keeps us all informed about what’s happenin’ in town–when those durn mules of hers aren’t causing her trouble, that is!

  11. Hey Pam – I was reading your post and this feeling of deja vu descended. Then I realized it must’ve been b/c I read about a similar blog post you’d written somewhere in the blogosphere. Isn’t that a fascinating word?

    I must confess after reading about your forays into on-line classes the first time, you made me curious enough to go surfing.

    No, I didn’t sign up for any courses, but I did bookmark some.

    My goal for this summer had been to get some contest entries out and the first-round results back before pitching my Historical at the ACFW conf in Sept.

    And work on tag lines, one-sheets, business cards, etc.

    Once that momentous event (to me) is over, I’ll revisit the on-line class scene…when I’m calm enough to concentrate. 🙂

  12. Hi Pam! I totally understand your love of on-line classes. I don’t take them, but I devour books on the craft of writing. I think I read over 50 before I sold my first novel. Since then, I’ve added another 20 or 30, but there aren’t any out there left for me to read! 🙂

    I never knew your first book went to auction. How cool is that?

    Your class with Gwen must’ve been great, for you came up with the brilliant idea of P&P!

    I love to keep learning, too. And whatever the class, even if it’s photography and seems unrelated, it brings out the creativity in writing, don’t you find?

    The last couple of years, I’ve devoted my time to post-graduate studies in comedy script writing, so this has been great fun, on top of my Westerns. I’ve written 2 screenplays–totally different than writing novels, and totally different in trying to sell them. I’m a total newbie in this field.

    I agree, it’s a slow process of learning to write novels, and we all started as newbies. Great post!

  13. Pam,

    I took an online class in how to create characers and plot using Tarot cards by Ann Jones-Rodriguez because I’ve always been intriuged by Tarot. I figured if it could help me with writing books, it’d be worth it. It was. I came away with a whole new way to write. It really helps when I get stuck. I just pull out those cards and see what might happen in that scene I’m writing.

    I think online classes are great but I have to pick and choose carefully or I easily get overwhelmed and it stops me dead in my tracks. I start thinking that what’s the use, I’ll never know enough to write and finish my story.

    I’m soooo glad you took Gwen Schuster-Haynes’ class and created P&P!! Can’t imagine life without it.

    Keep writing those wonderful stories of yours. Believe it or not, you’re immensely talented. 🙂

  14. Good morning, Pam. How glad I am that you started up Petticoats and Pistols! I just love being here.

    I’ve done several online classes through my RWA chapter, Orange County, and every one helped me tremendously. I like the idea of perusing/lurking/participating at my own speed, time and place.

  15. Hi, Anita Mae! Ooh, you’re pitching a book at a conference–how exciting! Is this your first time?

    Don’t try to get too bogged down in all the details–like getting cards printed and tag lines written. They’re helpful, but a big distraction. Really, it’s your story and writing style that is going to sell itself.

  16. Hi, Kate, thanks for stopping by. I know you’ve been working hard on your deadline.

    I really admire you for stretching your wings as a writer and delving into the screenplay world. Wow–my little pea-brain can only hold so much, and I’ve heard that they are indeed very different animals.

    Fingers crossed you sell a screen-play and get wildly successful. But not too successful. We all want you to keep writing those wonderful westerns! 🙂

  17. Linda, Tarot cards? Now this is what I hoped the blog would bring out–something I’d never heard of. LOL.

    Plotting/characterization with Tarot cards sounds fascinating. You should do a blog on it! I’d love to see how it works.

    And I’m glad I took Gwen’s class, too! We’ve created an awesome world for ourselves, and I love the Fillies as my own sisters!

  18. Hi, Tanya!

    The appeal of online classes is just how you described it. The convenience of reading/learning/studying at our own pace.

    Sheesh–I’m not sure I could go back into a formal classroom anymore. I would be so intimidated. LOL.

  19. Hi Pam!

    What an interesting blog. I have never taken online classes. I’m so involved in my other classes, that I rarely have time to write the next book, answer my email and correspondence letters, do the very needed research for my books and attend my classes.

    I do take other classes, but they are mostly related to my church. The course I’m taking in Florida is one of the longest ones I’ve ever done. These courses are about my other love that I seldom talk about in the writer community (mostly because some people in the past have told me that it might be inappropriate to talk about these things) — that of being able to be a volunteer minister with my church…and do one on one spiritual (not connected with psychology) counselling.

    So I do understand the passion for learning. I just direct that passion in a way that isn’t writing related, since writing takes up most of my time both physically and mentally.

    Congrats on 14 books. Quite something to be proud of. : )

  20. Pam,

    I wondered when someone was going to ask about Felicia Filly. I’d characterize her as a little cantankerous but with a great sense of humor. She’s a cross between a real Southern lady and a free-thinking wild west woman. Felicia is just a really loveable, sweet Filly. I’ve enjoyed knowing her.

  21. Thanks, Pam, on all the kind words. I’m really thrilled, along with everyone else, that you came up with Petticoats and Pistols! Now I’ve got a place to hang out and talk about craft all I want, and nine other writers I love hanging out with.

    Linda, those tarot cards really intrigue me, too. LOL on Felicia. She’s very charming and gracious, I find as well, and everything she says makes me laugh.

  22. Pam,
    I’m with you in a love of online classes! You can find all kinds of things to learn, whether they’re specifically taylored for writers or not! I think if you’re interested in just about anything there’s an online class out there somewhere.

    I’ve really enjoyed the Writers U classes I’ve taken and KOD’s really great. From Vikings to Pirates to creating ‘other’ worlds…I’ve taken the class. 🙂

    Linda, using Tarot as an idea/character starter is great fun, isn’t it? Very much along the same line as using the “brainstorming” cards. A great spark to your writer’s intuition.

  23. Yes Pam, this will be my first time attending a writing conference and I think the most exciting part will be meeting all my on-line friends – pubbed and otherwise.

    Until a few years ago, I was always taking some kind of course. I used to think I wanted to be a career student, b/c I loved school.

    In my early years of marriage, my job in the CAF meant I spent long hours on shift work, babysitting the equipment, waiting for something to happen. To stave off boredom, I took a Creative Writing Correspondence course. I’d been writing for 10 yrs but my tutor was the first person to read my writing. Most of my marks were high, but I’ve always remembered one story that he marked low and wrote Boring in big red letters across the top. What? How dare he!

    Many times since, I’ll be writing backstory and that paper will come to mind. And everytime I think about it, I realize he was right back then and whatever I’d just written is just that – boring.

    I never knew who that tutor was, but I thank him for his honesty.

  24. Hi Pam,

    I just wanted to say THANK YOU for starting up P&P. You all seem like such wonderful writers and I’ve really enjoyed meeting your guests too.

    This site has exposed me to so much good western writing that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

    Thanks again.

  25. The only non-credit class I took was “How To Identify Wild Mushrooms”. I now can go out and pick mushrooms without poisoning myself.

  26. Karen, it’s important that we don’t live in a tunnel. We must surround ourselves with those things that are important to us and make us more well-rounded as women–and individuals. Clearly, your church is as important to you as your writing and family.

    I admire you for your dedication to all of them! It isn’t easy to juggle everything!

  27. Hey, *liz! Thanks for stopping by.

    And Anita, thanks for sharing your story. I hope teachers know how much of a profound effect they have on their students. It’s too bad you don’t know his name so that you could tell him how much he helped you. He (probably) will never realize how much.

  28. I do other studying myself, but the only online class I’ve ever taken was Margie’s Defeating Self-Defeating Behaviors. *lizzie took that one, too. I didn’t keep up, but printed it all out and have it somewhere. I’m sure it would have been good if I’d followed through. Guess that’s one of my self-defeating behaviors. Maybe I already spend so much time at the computer that I don’t want to do even more.

    But I’m with Kate on craft books and articles. And other instructional books. I’m reading FOUR right now: The Art of Styling Sentences. (Our eight-year old reads it with me in the car.) The Web Wizard’s Guide to HTML, The Life and Teachings of Christ, and The Photoshop Elements Book For Digital Photographers. Quite a variety, eh?

  29. Cheryl, I took that class of Margie’s, too. I realized (with most everything) one must WANT to stop the bad behaviors in order for the exercises she suggests to work.

  30. Karen – I’ve taken all kinds of classes and although others have helped me more in one aspect of my life or other, the church classes are the ones that have affected me the deepest b/c they have changed how I live my life as opposed to learning new aspects of life. In other words, church classes feed our soul.

    Some of the classes I’ve taken over the years (pre-internet) are: cake decorating, gardening, wood working, intarsia making, candy making, lots of craft classes, photography…I’m sure there’s more…

    And since I’ve had the internet, I took an on-line class on making a web page.

  31. Any class that I can sign up for that has “no pressure, no tests, and no grades” is a class I would really enjoy right now 🙂

  32. Pam, I am not a writer though I sometimes dream of writing. I have taken losts of classes on all kinds of crafts, and have been the teacher of some of them. Never have I felt any class a waste of my time but unlike my daughter, I probably wouldn’t follow through online. Too easy to ignore. My daughter got a degree in information technologies online and is now going for her masters. She now works for the University where she got her degree. We are very proud of her.

  33. Hi, Connie,

    Okay–I thought you were someone different. Someone I knew under a pseudonym. That someone WAS a writer. LOL.

    In today’s age, the younger generation is very comfortable with on the computer so learning off them comes naturally. It’s being done more and more in academia, but the older generation has a bit harder time to relate.

    Thanks for checking in with us!

  34. Oops, Connie–I forgot to add your daughter is to be commended. What a feather in her cap to work at the University!

    Guess you raised her right, eh?

  35. Great post, Pam!

    I’ve thought about taking online classes, but never could get myself to commit to trying it—for the simple reason that I’d rather be writing *LOL* I’m no good at anything that feels like homework. I’ve tried using plotting charts, character charts and things of the like that CP’s have given me from classes they’ve taken, but I’m a hopeless panster–I’ll go write just to avoid those charts 😉

    But I have a lot of pals who find great inspiration from online courses–you gotta go with what moves you and gets those fingers on the keyboard 😀

    At the moment I could sure use something along the lines of Instant Manuscript 101 *G*

    Congrats on the 14 books!!!

  36. Hi Pam or should I say good evening! I just finished my manuscript and I’m free!!!
    I might even have time to take an online class now!! I’m so glad you were inspired to create Petticoats! It’s a great place and we’ve made some wonderful friends here. I love learning, so any class or books inspire me.

    Now, it’s time you GAVE a course on writing!

  37. Hi, Stacey,

    Isn’t it funny how everyone is so different? LOL.

    And Charlene, CONGRATS ON FINISHING YOUR BOOK!! I’m beginning to think I’ll never get done with mine. Yikes!

  38. Sorry, I’m posting this late, but intarsia is a wood working art. The piece is made by using ‘puzzle pieces’ of different types and varieties of wood since they all have different colours and grain patterns.

    The work is exacting because you have to cut accurately and sand carefully. If you take too much off, the piece doesn’t fit properly and the whole thing is off.

    It’s like when you’re doing counted cross-stitch and you put one too many or too few stitches. Then you’re next row will off and so on throughout.

    I have my own scroll saw and belt sander. I love making intarsia but it takes time away from my writing. Plus, it’s time consuming figuring out the wood to use and frustrating trying to buy it in small quantities.

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