I registered for my first MasterClass at the end of 2016. It was James Patterson Teaches Writing and I learned about it through a Facebook ad. Right away, I was hooked. It cost $99 and included an exclusive opportunity to enter a contest to be Patterson’s next co-author.
Although my contest entry didn’t go anywhere, it inspired me to finish and publish my first thriller.
MasterClass has an extensive list of writing classes. The advantage they have over other course platforms is that all their instructors are Masters, like the name suggests. Part of what I enjoy so much about MasterClass is hearing these outrageously successful people share their personal experiences and their knowledge of writing craft.
Every MasterClass also includes access to a student forum where you can connect with other students and ask questions. Some instructors answer via video. The classes also include a comprehensive downloadable workbook.
What Can You Learn?
MasterClass has a large catalog of writing classes, but they have many other classes available too. Other class categories include film and TV, culinary arts, business, politics and society, sports and games, music and entertainment, lifestyle, and design, photography and fashion.
If you enjoy learning, then the subscription rate is a much better deal than buying each class. At the time of writing, you can purchase lifetime access to a single class for $99 or annual access to all classes for $240 per year.
Here’s a rundown of the writing classes MasterClass has on offer at the time of writing this article.
I’m embarrassed to say that when I started James Patterson’s class, I had read none of his books. The class takes a case study approach, and students are encouraged to read his book Honeymoon as they work through the class. The workbook included deleted scenes and James’s working outline. I found this format really helpful.
After I finished James Patterson’s class, I received an email from MasterClass asking if I was interested in previewing Judy Blume’s class. I was—it’s Judy Blume! I enjoyed learning about Judy’s editing process as she shared the various notes she left for herself in the margins of her work. She referred to her adult novel_ In the Unlikely Event_ often throughout the course, so I read it as well. It’s based on actual events and it was interesting to see how Judy took those events and created a compelling novel.
Neil Gaiman’s course was pure magic. Again, I’m embarrassed to say I had read none of Neil’s books before watching the course, but his thoughts on writing were so fascinating that I had to read his work. Neil discusses genre, humor, comics, editing, rules for writers, and dealing with writer’s block.
What I loved about Dan Brown’s class was his approach to plotting. He recommends plotting by first thinking of a world you are interested in or know very well. His example was the world of wine making, and he proceeded to spitball a thriller plot set in this world based on all the things that could happen with wine making and vineyards.
The accompanying workbook includes sections for working on your plot and subplot and key things to consider in your story such as conflict, moral gray area, time pressure, and theme.
While this class teaches creative writing, Margaret also discusses writing as a career, and I found that part of the class inspiring. The class includes special lessons on writing speculative fiction.
For a guy who writes horror, I thought R. L. Stine was hilarious. As the class title says, this class is about writing middle grade and young adult fiction. There was lots of helpful information about how to get ideas and how to write a series.
If you’ve ever read an R. L. Stine book, you know he likes to use cliffhangers. He discusses how and when to use cliffhangers, how to use plot twists and false leads, and how to write a surprise ending.
This class is best for writers interested in nonfiction, but fiction writers could still benefit. There are many areas of fiction and nonfiction that overlap such as narrative, character description, engaging readers, and adding suspense and surprise to your writing.
David Mamet’s class is specifically for writers wanting to write movie scripts, however, I think you will enjoy his tips regardless of the type of writing you do. Lessons include the purpose of drama, dramatic rules, story ideas, character, dialogue, and plot.
In David’s class on humor, he shares how he likes to ask people unusual questions such as, “Have you ever touched a monkey?” just to see what they say. “Oh, can you smell it on me?” was one woman’s response. While David’s class focuses on essays and memoir writing, I thought his unusual questions were a fascinating way to get story ideas.
Some of the topics covered include turning observations into stories, writing about loved ones, connecting to your reader, and growing as a writer.
As the class title suggests, this class is perfect for learning more about writing short stories. Joyce talks about keeping a journal and using ideas from the journal as writing prompts. There are workshops included with Joyce and two writing students where they critique each other’s work.
One thing Joyce said that stood out to me was that writing about things that are taboo or close to your heart can often produce some of your best work.
This is MasterClass’s third class taught by a thriller author, but I didn’t notice the classes overlapping much at all. Each instructor has their own way of doing things, and I think it’s important to find what works for you.
What’s unique about this class is that David talks about navigating the publishing business. This includes finding an agent, promoting your book, and running your writing career.
Billy’s class on poetry shows how to create visibly and audibly pleasing poems even if they don’t rhyme. There are many poems read throughout the class for examples. Some of the lessons included are finding your voice, humor, working with form, and the writing process.
This class is listed under MasterClass’s “Film & TV” classes, but it includes great advice for all writers.
I watched Shonda Rhimes’s class because I love her show Scandal. I found the case studies for Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy included in the course very helpful. Shonda explains why certain decisions were made regarding story lines and it helps to see how thinking about your story can improve your writing.
The lesson on “Life of a Writer” was helpful too. It’s nice to see that even super successful writers struggle with balancing work and family commitments.
Bob Woodward reported on Watergate while working for The Washington Post. To me, this was reason enough to watch Bob’s class, but I also have an investigative journalist as a character in one of my books, so I wanted to get a sense of what that career is like.
You’ll find this class under the Business, Politics & Society section on MasterClass. Lessons include finding a story, guiding principles, in-depth reporting, and building trust with sources. There are also several case studies with Bob and investigative journalism students.
One thing I love about MasterClass classes is how well the personalities of the instructors seem to shine through. This got me thinking about taking some courses outside the writing subject area just for the sake of improving the character development in my writing.
Besides all the courses taught by authors, there are courses taught by athletes, actors, magicians, poker players, chefs, and musicians, just to name a few. After taking Bobbi Brown’s class on makeup and beauty, I’m thinking about writing a novel with a makeup artist as a protagonist.
I write thrillers, so I was drawn to the class on negotiation taught by Former FBI lead hostage negotiator Chris Voss. It was incredible! I loved learning negotiation techniques like mirroring and labelling. I’ve used some of them in my dialogue and I’ve become better at negotiating with my kids too!
I mentioned that I was fortunate to be invited to preview some MasterClass classes. How this works, is MasterClass emails a survey and if you fit their criteria, you can view a class for free provided you share your honest feedback. In exchange for completing this within their deadline, you are given a one-year subscription. I’m not sure if they still do this, but it’s how I could afford to watch so many classes. Every time they gave me the opportunity to fill out a survey, I did.
Well, if you hadn’t already guessed, the answer to the question, “Are MasterClass classes worth it?” is a resounding YES! The instructors are engaging, the workbooks are very detailed, and the additional forums and opportunities MasterClass provides are a wonderful bonus.