Review: Writing Columns That Editors Can’t Resist

I was recently offered the opportunity to review this online course by Luuk Koelman, a professional columnist from the Netherlands.

The subject of column-writing isn’t widely discussed, and yet it has many attractions for writers. Most importantly, if you get a gig as a columnist, you have a guaranteed source of work for weeks, months, perhaps even years.

In addition, unlike journalists, columnists have a licence to write about pretty much anything they like – as long as it entertains readers, of course. Neither are columnists expected to perform in-depth research, interview people, and so on. As indicated above, their role is primarily to entertain, as opposed to journalists, whose job is to inform.

Writing Columns That Editors Can’t Resist is hosted on Fedora, a course-building platform I hadn’t come across before – it’s not as well-known as Udemy, for example. It has a smart, professional-looking interface, however, and I found signing up quite straightforward.

Once you have enrolled as a student, the course content is set out in a menu on the left, while the actual learning materials appear in the centre of the screen when selected (see screen capture below).

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The course content is delivered through  a series of short, whiteboard-style video lectures. After watching these, you can then read (though not download) a PDF of the script. Luuk advises students to watch the videos initially, then read the PDFs, then perhaps watch the video again.

He suggests studying no more than two or three lectures per day. As there are 37 lectures, that means it would take you around 12 to 18 days to complete the course. I must admit my own inclination would be to proceed a bit faster than that, as many of the lectures are no more than two or three minutes long.

The course content is well written and interesting. Luuk obviously knows his field well. He explains clearly what is (and is not) a column, and the best way to approach writing one. There is lots of good advice on planning and structuring a column, which I found particularly interesting (I will read my favourite newspaper and magazine columns with a much more analytical eye in future!). His advice on polishing and editing is very pertinent as well.

Luuk makes no claim that this is an easy route to fame and fortune, though he does set out various approaches to marketing yourself and your columns. He also suggests applying for columnist positions on websites – not for the money (most don’t pay anything) but for the practice and to help get your name known. It does seem to me that this is closely related to guest blogging. My own inclination would be to combine it with maintaining a blog of your own, which you can then monetize if you wish with Google AdSense, affiliate ads, and so on. Just my personal perspective, I guess.

As well as the lectures, there are various bonus materials, including an e-book of the entire course content. This is very useful for reference, although again you can’t download it (I assume for copyright-protection reasons). You also get a list of 24 writing tools, many of which I hadn’t come across before and definitely intend to check out. And finally, there is a step-by-step checklist against which to evaluate your own columns.

Overall, I liked Writing Columns That Editors Can’t Resist and found it practical and informative. For anyone interested in becoming a columnist, it will undoubtedly provide a lot of valuable advice and information.

In addition to the teaching materials, it would have been good to see some actual example columns by Luuk himself. I would also like to have seen more practical exercises for students. And finally, it would be nice if there was some way for students to interact with one another, as would of course be the case with a “real life” course.

As it is, I can’t help feeling that what you have here is basically an e-book which has been converted into bite-sized video presentations. It’s a very good e-book, but I’d like to see it made a bit more interactive and “hands on”. The bonus checklist does do this to some extent, but maybe Luuk could also offer to provide feedback on one sample column submitted by each student. Just a suggestion, obviously!

Nonetheless, if column writing is something that appeals to you and you would like to learn more about it from a successful, professional columnist, I definitely recommend Writing Columns That Editors Can’t Resist. It should give you all the grounding you need to get started in this exciting and enjoyable field.

If you have any comments or questions, as ever, please feel free to post them below.

Wordcloud courtesy of Word It Out.

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