The Critique Circle Blog

The CC Blog is written by members of our community.
Do you want to write a blog post? Send Us a blog request

  • View all blogs
  • Go to thread

Improve Your Writing... -- by Charlie Aylett


...Without spending a packet. *Free online resources to improve your writing.*


Feeling a little lost with your fiction writing and don't have the resources to take a course or attend a conference? Here are a few little gems to help you on your way and they don't cost a penny!

First of all, let’s get poetry out of the way. For you sceptics out there who ‘don’t do poetry’, just bear with me a moment.

I am no poet. But from time to time, I write poetry. Why? Because it strengthens my writing skills. Whether it's to improve Showing technique, or widen vocabulary, or maybe even just to hone a better sense of rhythm, poetry is not just for poets. And if you try writing to form, it's similar to working out a puzzle, like a crossword or Sudoku. For these reasons more than any other, I highly recommend all writers should take some time to poem occasionally, even if it's for their eyes only.

I never used to like poetry, but when I took a free online course many years ago I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed the process of composing a poem to form. I still wouldn't claim to have in-depth knowledge of poetry's intricacies or techniques, but I certainly have an appreciation as to how hard poetry can be to compose.

So, where to start? is a good place if you just want to get stuck in without reading too much into technique, etc. This site lists all the major poetry forms, with straightforward explanations and examples of how to write them. There are various articles regarding poetry, too, if you wish to delve further.

Myslexia recently published three poetry workshops on their website which takes you through the various stages of revision, so you can polish up and play around with whatever you wrote from

William Wordsworth: Poetry, People and Place

If you then get a taste for poetry and would like to dig deeper into the subject, I recommend this course studying the works of Wordsworth for more insight. On the Future Learn website, all courses run in cycles, so if you missed it the first time, it will come around again at some point. At the time of writing this article, the class is yet to be given another start date, but if you sign up to the site and register your interest, they’ll alert you when it’s going to run again.

So, let’s dispense with the poetry courses and move onto useful fiction writing resources.

FutureLearn is probably one of the best MOOCs out there (Massive Open Online College, I think, or something along those lines). Not only does it have some high-quality tutorials concerning creative writing, it also runs courses on a multitude of other subjects.

How does this relate to writing?

Research. Oh yessy. You can use some of these classes to gain insight into certain areas you might want to create a story around – How to Survive on Marsenvironmental conservationcyber security. And the other useful thing is the contacts you make – other students are full of knowledge and can often provide you with links and info that will help you onto the next stage of your research.

But, onto the writing side of things…

There are three courses of particular notability that will boost anyone’s writing knowledge, even those who are more experienced.

Start Writing Fiction is aimed mostly at beginners, but there are still some interesting insights for the more seasoned writer. The other plus for this course is that the modules require students to critique each others’ work – an invaluable skill all writers should learn, though we here at CC all know where's best for that, hey folks?

Literature of the English Country House may seem, on the face of it, only for those with a taste for classic literature, but you’ll be mightily surprised how much insight this course gives you into the deeper meaning of words and creative writing techniques. You’ll learn how to close read texts and even take a trip into Jane Austen’s popularised technique of free indirect discourse. What’s also pretty remarkable is the sudden sense of history you feel by the end of it, and how literature so closely reflects the times authors live through. Food for thought for any would-be novelist, struggling with period details. The quality of the class material is outstanding and if I ever wanted to study a degree Sheffield Uni would be one of my first choices if all their courses are to this commendable standard. I cannot recommend this module highly enough. As mentioned previously, Future Learn courses run in cycles, and this is yet to be assigned a new start date, but if you register your interest they’ll let you know when the next cycle begins.

How to Read a Novel is another class on the Future Learn site and I joined it recently in order to report on it especially for this blog! Yes, I know, far too dedicated... :D Each week (x4) focused on specific areas of a novel: plot, characterisation, setting, and dialogue and involved close-reading of published excerpts to understand some of the techniques, including stream-of-consciousness, POV filters, and creating tone. As per, lots of interesting discussions ensued among students. 

And yes, shameless plug coming up -- I have my own free class!! Whoop-whoop! How to Plot Your Story Arcs. Emotional structure in a story is extremely important, though sometimes hard to grasp and often insufficiently developed. This class covers the overall concept of the arc in a ten-minute run-through.

So, once you have taken your writing classes, and created some stories, what do you do with them? How do you know what works and what doesn’t? There’s only one place to go as far as I’m concerned…  

For anyone out there catching this blog who has not yet taken the plunge to join CC, let me explain to you my experience and why I've been a member now for -- blimey!-- a decade.

Over the years I have signed up for plenty of writing sites promising rigorous critique, but I always end up back at CC with my early drafts.


Well, to begin with, it's the absolute ease of use of the site. It's set up specifically with critique in mind and hones your editing skills like no other place I've found. You can write inline critiques – no need to keep moving up and down the page to copy and paste text into a comments box at the bottom. Or, if you prefer, you can write an overall critique of the whole piece in a single comments box. There are also handy guides on how to critique constructively if you are unsure. But it doesn't stop there. The sheer amount of resources on this site is mind-boggling. You can own your own private queues and create your own crit groups, there are templates on everything from plotting to character sheets to world building, and other tools to help inspire, keep you on track and in 'mode'. There's too much to explain it all here. You'll have to check it out yourselves, but if you're hovering around this blog, unsure whether to join us, I hope this gives you plenty of motivation to do so.

I wouldn’t recommend anywhere else if you are serious about getting feedback on your work. Word of warning, though, you may need some of that thick skin writers always bang on about. The members at CC are very giving with their time and their knowledge, but they tend not to offer platitudes. If you are serious about improving, this is the place to be!

So, you’re all set. These should keep you occupied for some time, and all the stronger for it by the end.




About the author: Charlie Aylett is a writer, editor and a teacher at Skillshare. You can read her latest story at Flash Fiction Online and find her work on Amazon.


Posted by Charlie Aylett 12 Sep 2017 at 01:12
Do you want to write for the Critique Circle Blog? Send us a message!

Responses to this blog

Catesquire 12 Sep 2017 at 15:36  
To add to the resource list: the Sanderson Lectures are a great listen.
Jongoff 14 Sep 2017 at 18:03  
The one and only best way to improve your writing skills is to take the help of any experienced writer and ask him to help you. I too have taken some classes from one the senor writer of customer reviews blog which has helped me to improve my writing skills.
I understand where you're coming from, but there are other ways, and as to which is best, it depends on one's native talent, perseverance, and commitment. More than anything else, writing is the thing that will help you improve. Practice is the key to improving, no matter what discipline you follow.
Slaw30 18 Sep 2017 at 16:39  
Fantastic article - thanks so much for sharing. I've just registered interest for the course - Literature of the English Country House and I've signed up for the Future Learn course on How to Read a Novel

I never would have known about them if I hadn't read this blog. Thanks
Rellrod 18 Sep 2017 at 22:30  
Cool stuff!

I wonder whether writing song lyrics can serve as an alternative to poetry. They're distinctly different arts, but lyrics require the same kind of attention to writing to form.

S0journer 19 Sep 2017 at 23:11  
Thank you for this post! I've signed up for How to Read a Novel, my first ever MOOC, and it's terrific. Better reading makes better writing for me.
Demonqueen 20 Sep 2017 at 17:37  
I'm so pleased to hear that! They are both excellent courses.

Rick, I think there may well be some music/songwriting courses on FutureLearn, too, if they are of interest.

@Jongoff — I'd think I'd go with a combination of writing practice, critiquing and learning techniques through either education or reading as the best way to improve your writing, and they must all go hand-in-hand. Using writing as the only way to improve can end up with you making the same mistakes over and over and never realising it!

Respond to this blog

Please log in or create a free Critique Circle account to respond to this blog

Member submitted content is © individual members.
Other material is ©2003-2020
Back to top