Welcome to a HYHA, where I review a resource I found helpful to my writing journey, whether website, blog, podcast, or movie. Perhaps you will as well. Obligatory Disclaimer: This series presents my opinion, nothing more or less. These are not paid ads. Cool? Cool.
What is MasterClass?
Masterclass is fairly well-known commodity at this point, but if you have not run across it, here’s the basics: It is a streaming platform of instructional lectures featuring dozens of the most recognizable experts in over 20 fields. It has won numerous awards since it’s founding in 2015 and serves hundreds of thousands of subscribers. Their classes are not limited to writing or creative disciplines. You will find series on everything from cooking to skateboarding to mindfulness. The roster truly is a tour-de-force of who’s-who in many industries.
This is the first HYHA to cover a resource that costs anything at all. At $15/month billed annually, a one-year subscription will set you back $180. I understand that this barrier means it’s not for everyone. Never feel guilty or obligated to spend money on your writing. A 2021 subscription was my Christmas present in 2020, and I found that one year was more than sufficient to watch all the classes from the writing section. The price is about what many of us pay for Netflix, and less than individual classes offered by other HYHA reviewees, such as Lit Reactor and Jane Friedman.
Technically speaking, it is a professional, attractive, and navigable platform. My only minor complaint is that sometimes it does not give me credit for watching videos that I stream on their mobile app on Android if I watch several in a row. I like to see my progress grow!
Let’s get to it, then: What follows are my subjective thoughts on the classes I watched. I’ve assigned them a gut-feeling score on two qualities – practicality and entertainment – and ordered them from lowest to highest total score. Take it all with a grain of salt: I write as a 30-something white male 3 years into teaching himself to write mostly sci-fi and fantasy. Your experience may vary.
Select Writing Courses:
Joyce Carol Oats –
Known for: Literary fiction such as Black Water and What I Lived For.
- “If anyone listening feels like they are a writer, they probably are.”
- “The instinct to reach for something universal across generations speaks through all art.”
- “There is an audience for every darkness.”
I personally found this class a little dry. It featured much discussion of literary short stories from the 1960’s or earlier. I would recommend it for people who want to be experimental poets or who want to feel like they have audited an MFA. To its credit, this was the only class to include an actual writing workshop with students on camera.
David Baldacci –
Known for: Modern suspense such as Guilty and The Camel Club.
- “Writing is a lifestyle incorporated into a daily routine.”
- “Writers see what could be in the world… be bound or limited only by plausibility – if it could happen, write about it. “
Baldacci dispenses practical advice about holding reader attention, doing your research, and maintaining suspense. He breaks down the genre ingredients of modern suspense: puzzles, tension, and a fast pace.
RL Stine –
Known For: young adult occasionally-satirical horror such as Goosebumps and Fear Street
- “Know your audience, and choose your audience”
- “Find ideas wherever you can.”
Stine is just funny; an enjoyable person to listen to for 3-4 hours. His career-arc is an object lesson in seizing opportunity when it knocks. He was writing completely unrelated adult fiction when he was invited to audition for a middle-grade horror series, and the rest is history.
Lavar Burton –
Known for: Film and television such as Roots, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Reading Rainbow, and a delightful cameo as himself on Community.
- “The stories we tell one another are the foundation and parameters for who we are as people.”
- “The great storytellers know themselves… the light as well as the dark. We must be willing to go on that journey, to discover things we may not like about ourselves, but are a part of who we are… we must honor those things about ourselves. The story of humanity is about finding our way through the darkness into the light.”
It is a little unfair to ding this class as “impractical” since it is about oral storytelling traditions, not writing, but I feel I must, because of this blog’s focus. Practicality is a 4.0 – 5.0 for actors. However, you will never experience a more warm, delightful, and encouraging experience with a flat screen than this masterclass. Burton makes you feel like you can do anything you set your mind to. I recommend it as a pick-me-up after some of the heavier classes.
Neil Gaiman –
Known for: Quirky and poignant fantasy for all ages, from Coraline to Sandman, Good Omens to American Gods.
- “Fairy Tales are true not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us they can be defeated.”
- “Stories are important because humans are storytelling creatures, who use memorable lies to tell the truth.”
- “I didn’t have anything to say not because I hadn’t lived, but because I was not prepared to say anything true about the world.”
- “Fantasy is about making a metaphor concrete.”
- “Style is the stuff you get wrong. If you (wrote) everything perfectly, there would be no style.”
Gaiman is infinitely encouraging, insightful, and quotable. He weaves bursts of practical advice into his poignant philosophical approach to writing. The “practicality” factor jumps up to an 5.0 if you’re a graphic artist, since the middle lessons contain practical advice about comic book animation.
David Mahmet –
Known for: Pulitzer-winning plays Glengarry Glen Ross and Speed-the-Plow
- “Because humans perceive the world as causes and effects, they create art the same way.”
- “The easily shamed do not learn.”
- “Should I use my life experiences (in my writing)? … what choice do I have?”
- “Dedication leads you past consciousness.”
Mahmet is into practical storytelling: keep it simple, make and keep promises, and don’t moralize. His dry, pessimistic wit and “let-me-tell-ya-something, kid” energy drives his lessons forward at a quick pace.
David Sedaris –
Known for: creative-non-fiction satire such as Me Talk Pretty One Day and When You Are Engulfed In Flames.
- “You are so privileged to be a writer.”
- “Everything is funny eventually.”
- “Celebrate (the bad things). Make the most of it.”
Sedaris pontificates about being bold, brave, and drawing from honest experiences. He writes with heart, humor, and authenticity. As a renowned humorist, his class is delightfully entertaining. His writing is inextricably tied to his life – his experiences are at times moving, convicting, and inspirational.
James Patterson –
Known for: modern suspense such as the Alex Cross and Maximum Ride series.
- “Put your strength forward – is it an idea? A character? A setting? Center that in the story.”
- “Set your goals high! Don’t set out to write a good book – set out to write a #1 bestseller.”
- “A narrative emphasizes causality – every chapter should actively propel the book forward, connecting to what comes before and after with a ‘therefore…’ statement.”
- “‘Voice‘ is not as mysterious as it sounds – it the the culmination of what the narrator chooses to notice and how they choose to describe it.”
- “Start big and end bigger.”
If you want to be a professional, Patterson has a lot of advice about the nuts and bolts of navigating the publishing industry. As one of the most prolific and best-selling writers on this list, he has much to say about marketability and holding reader’s attention. Don’t sleep on his advice about sustaining the writer’s life.
Margaret Atwood –
Known For: Thought-provoking science fiction such as The Handmaid’s Tale.
- “Ask Yourself: ‘How can I evoke (x) feeling in a reader?'”
- “Reading is the most participative of the arts – you cannot control how it is received, you can only create the best story you can.”
- “Actions reveal character: People are what happens to them, and how they react”
Atwood offers detailed advice about how to make readers think, develop a theme, and make your writing come alive. Her class is one of the more impactful, craft-focused courses on this list. She’s not laugh-out-loud funny like Sedaris or Mahmet, but she has a charming wink-and-nod delivery that makes the time fly.
Salman Rushdie –
Known for: Modern literary fiction such as Midnight’s Children and Shame.
- “A lot of your skill as a writer comes from your understanding of who you are and what you want to say to the world.”
- “The 3-act structure is all nonsense… it is useful if it works, but it is only one idea.”
- “Once you have established a character, you must respect who that character is.”
As an Indian immigrant first to the United Kingdom and later to America, Rushdie writes and teaches from a global perspective. He offers down-to-earth advice, memorably said. His course feels like a seminar with your favorite college professor.
Dan Brown –
Known for: Best-selling conspiracy-driven thrillers such as The da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons.
- “Write with a ‘crucible’ – something that constraints the characters, keeping them on one path.”
- “Write books you would want to read. If you like it, someone will share your taste.”
- “The difference between good writers and bad writers is that good writers know when they are bad.”
Brown breaks down the thriller genre into pace, promises, and suspense. He is very practical about how to survive the writer’s life – mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically. He’s a bit of a straight-arrow, but he’s entertaining in a dad-joke kind of way. You cannot argue with his success.
N.K. Jemisin –
Known for: Award-winning modern science fiction such as The Broken Earth trilogy and The City We Became.
- “Follow the ripple effects: keep asking ‘how would my X-factor impact (Y)?'”
- “Magic in books should feel more numinous than what you experience in game systems.”
- “Any sufficiently systematized magic is indistinguishable from science. ” (A riff on Arthur C. Clarke’s famous quote about sufficiently wonderous science feeling like magic.)
I love her writing, so I am a little biased towards this one, but Jemisin offers down-to-earth, practical advice about worldbuilding, writing the other, and writing for social change. She goes in-depth into the impact each small choice has on the broader narrative. She has a lot to say about overcoming challenges and persevering as a writer.
Although there will certainly be more, I feel like this review-filled-with-reviews is the Final Boss of the “Have You Heard About” series. I hope this has been informative for you, reader, and best of luck to you on your writing journey here on the cusp of a new year.
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