Writing a strong essay can make a huge difference in job and college applications. Here are 15 online classes and books to learn how to do it.

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  • Communicating ideas in a clear way is a crucial life skill no matter which field you work in.
  • Writing personal essays can help perfect your storytelling and presentation skills.
  • Below are 15 online classes, books, podcasts, and resources to start with.

Everyone has a story, but not everyone knows how to tell their story. One place to start is finding the perfect container for your experiences and insights. Enter: the personal essay.

Well-crafted essays mark the difference between a meandering group of paragraphs and a clear, resonant idea. Almost every occupation can benefit from stronger communication, research, and persuasion skills – all of which can be sharpened from essay writing classes.

Think about the application prompts you’ve muddled through or the chances for publication you’ve felt too intimidated to attempt. The confidence to explore a topic, land on a perspective, and express it effectively is universally valuable, whether you’re writing a personal statement for college, crafting a cover letter for a new job, or giving a presentation at work.

The essay writing resources below range from 200-page books to eight-week online courses. Some require submitting original work to receive feedback, while others are prompts meant to inspire new ideas.

15 essay writing online courses, workshops, and books to strengthen your storytelling skills:

Table of Contents: Static

For the basics

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How to Write a Personal Essay (CreativeLive)

Joyce Maynard is a celebrated memoirist and personal essayist who knows what it takes to get an essay noticed for publication. In five hours of video instruction, students will learn how to identify ideas that could become pieces, how to build an outline, create an interesting character, and even end an essay to emphasize the final discovery. With a review rating of 100% from former students, this course is the perfect place to start your next essay. 

How to Write an Essay (edX)

This UC Berkeley class hones in on the hidden mechanisms of essays. The five-week course is more academic than creative, but ideal for those hoping to write with immaculate grammar and rigorous self-editing habits. The course (which is free to audit) provides both instructional videos and readings, and students will produce one essay as a takeaway from the class. 

Memoir and Personal Essay: Write About Yourself Specialization (Coursera)

Presented by Wesleyan University, this four-month specialization is instructed by four published essayists and memoirists. Through 16 writing assignments across four courses, students develop an approach to their own storytelling skills. And for those looking to take their writing out of the classroom, this course leaves you with a portfolio of work upon completion. 

“The Situation and The Story” by Vivian Gornick 

Drawing on her experience from teaching MFA programs, Vivian Gornick challenges the writer to step back and evaluate their role in relation to the work. Are they the same person as the narrator? What details matter to the story? It’s an invitation to look below the surface of life as it unfolds and ask questions of larger significance. The book is short, but explores diverse greats of the genre, from Joan Didion to Oscar Wilde. 

For coming up with ideas

woman writing at desk

Creative Writing for All: A 10-Day Journaling Challenge (Skillshare)

Seasoned journalist, novelist, and publisher Emily Gould only wants ten minutes of your time a day. In a 10-day course described as “perfect for writers and enthusiasts eager to rekindle creativity in a personal and artful way,” she packs in countless creative prompts and revision tricks. It’s great for writers who are crunched for time and looking to discover a new topic right under their nose.

The New York Times’ Writing Prompts

This archive of questions inspired by the NYT’s own stories is a perfect place to start, since jumping in can often feel like the hardest part. The Learning Network is targeted towards students, but the conversations following each prompt can be helpful for writers of all ages. After all, many essays begin as questions. Why not borrow some from the Times? 

Personal Essay Independent Study: Generating Fresh Ideas for the Personal Essay (Catapult)

Writing from life can make it difficult to be objective. What’s interesting? What could become a full length essay? Led by essayist and editor Lilly Dancyger, this independent study is the perfect place to start coming up with fresh ideas. Self-guided, with three separate lessons ranging in topics from perspective to conversation, is an ideal fit for new writers looking to demystify the craft of storytelling via essays.  

“Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg 

The best writers are always avid readers and this book is a great start. With over one million copies sold and translations in 12 languages, it’s hard to deny the creative jumpstart writers find from “Writing Down the Bones.” The tone of the book is conversational and approachable, and it’s full of compelling personal narratives and prompts. Goldberg integrates tenets of Zen meditation with writing in order to create what she coins a “Writing Practice.” The practice includes self-interrogation, creating a specific space, and carving out time to read. 

For developing style

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Creative Writing: Crafting Personal Essays with Impact (Skillshare)

Let The New York Times bestselling author and revered professor Roxane Gay inspire your writing to ask questions of deep resonance. Her one-hour masterclass is an insightful lesson on transforming your personal essay with cultural context. Learn how to take yourself (and your essay) seriously by expanding your story and connecting with the audience you want to reach. The class comes with a downloadable worksheet and links to additional resources. 

David Sedaris Teaches Humor and Storytelling (MasterClass)

No one writes humor like David Sedaris. With 10 bestselling essay collections under his belt, there’s hardly a more qualified teacher. In his MasterClass, he explores how to pull meaning out of the mundane, how humor helps us move through the dark subjects of our stories, and how everything depends on an attention-grabbing opening. Prepare to learn, laugh, and be charmed for over three hours of his beautifully shot video lessons.

Begin with the Body (Skillshare)

Chelsea Hodson’s essays have been described as, “anchors for the themes  —  identity, sexuality, loss  —  we so often see reflected back at us.” In under 45 minutes, you’ll be inspired to examine a strong starting point for any essay — your own body. Plus, Hodson’s demonstration of her editing process in real time and analysis of other creative works leaves you with no excuse but to, as she says, “write without expectation.” She also occasionally offers feedback on essays submitted through the class.

For practice and feedback

Woman writing in notebook

8-Week Personal Essay & Memoir Writing (Sackett Street Writers)

For writers with some experience or an essay ready to be workshopped, writing workshops like Sackett Street‘s are an excellent option. This particular class is taught by published author Anna Qu, exploring the responsibility of nonfiction writing while learning literary techniques to create a compelling story. On top of Qu’s guidance, the comradery with fellow students, even online, can lead to new perspectives and creative inspiration through in-class writing prompts.

“Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life” by Anne Lamott

Few books reign supreme when it comes to authors’ favorites “books on books” like “Bird by Bird.” Lamott’s down-to-earth, homespun advice on life and writing has sold over a million copies. Simultaneously practical and profound, the book leans on the basic tenet that the most important practice is sitting down every day and simply writing. As Lamott writes: “One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore. Another is that writing motivates you to look closely at life, at life as it lurches by and tramps around.”

Memoir Monday (Substack)

Every Monday, a collection of the best essays published the previous week on sites like Granta, Longreads, and Literary Hub are mailed directly to your inbox. A monthly reading series, plus interviews with notable authors provide a dose of inspiration and a curated look at up and coming work. 

WMFA Podcast hosted by Courtney Balestier

Writing can be lonely work,” and this podcast sees conversation as a combatant to that problem. Writers across all genres and walks of life are interviewed by writer Courtney Balestier, and talks range from craft practices to book recommendations. There’s also a minisode (around five minutes) on a single topic, like paying attention or restraint, released every other week. The conversation continues in a monthly newsletter featuring links, news, and recommendations. 

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