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Writing Certificate


Online Certificate Program in Novel Writing co-founder Malena Watrous answers some common questions about the program below. Malena, a novelist and former Wallace Stegner Fellow and Truman Capote Fellow, also teaches in the program.

Have more questions? Watch the video of our information session, where prospective students heard from program administrators and recent alumni.

How is the Online Certificate Program in Novel Writing similar to or different from getting an MFA?

Most MFA programs mix cohorts between long and short fiction writers, while our program is exclusively focused on novel writing. An MFA (or sometimes a PhD) can be a requirement when someone is applying to teach at the university level. This certificate won’t fill that role. Most students in MFA programs are expected to take fairly substantial course loads which include studying literature and theory. We only ask students to take one course per quarter, which is a writing class, but instructors bring literature and theory into these writing courses.

How flexible is the schedule/are there set times when I have to be online?

Because our program is (and always has been) entirely online, our students come from all over the country and even world. Most of our instruction is asynchronous, meaning there is never a time when students must be online. Students can log into Canvas and do their work when they have time. Each class will include a weekly Zoom session, and students will be able to view all syllabi before registration in order to choose a class section that meets their needs/schedule. Zoom sessions are always recorded for students who can't attend live.

Who is the right applicant for the Online Certificate Program in Novel Writing?

Someone who is quite serious about their fiction writing, who has been working at it for a while in a demonstrable fashion, ideally by taking at least one prior writing workshop. We have novelists writing in various genres: contemporary fiction, mysteries and thrillers, sci-fi, historical fiction, YA, even some novels-in-stories. Regardless of genre, we look for applicants who care about language and wish to create resonant books. We don’t accept writers working on middle grade fiction (intended for ages 8-12) or below. This is not a program for memoirists.

How selective is the program?

We typically accept about % of total applicants. The selectivity of our program means that the cohort is comprised of passionate writers who have already learned the basics of fiction writing and are ready to learn how to make their novels work. The selectivity also means that students can enjoy collaborating with similarly dedicated and informed classmates. Many of our students end up forming writing groups that they sustain for years after finishing the program.

Do I already need to be working on a novel when I apply?

You don’t need to be at work on your novel, although almost all students apply with an idea for one or two, if not also a sample chapter or two. Some students have been admitted who may have only written short stories in the past and are applying with the desire to start their first novel. Some students also enter the program with a rough draft already finished, knowing that they want to use their time to refine and revise it, which is also fine. Our goal is to offer you the tools, instruction and community to write the best possible novel that you can in two years.

Do your students go on to publish their novels?

Many of our students have begun publishing the books they’ve written while in this program, and this monthly column often features their success stories. Nothing thrills us more than when we learn of a student getting a publication, winning an award or finding other forms of recognition for the novels they produced under our guidance. Our students have also sometimes gone on to attend such prestigious MFA programs as the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.