What MasterClass Can Do For A Writer

Most writers constantly try to improve their craft. Whether you write thrillers, mystery, romance, sci-fi, dystopian, non-fiction, web content, blogs or whatever, you always feel your work can be better. At least that’s what goes on in my mind.

I like to say I’m a life-long learner. I’ve gone to school for sixty-four years and still don’t know what I’m going to be when I grow up. Maybe that’s why I’m hooked on watching MasterClass.

What’s MasterClass, you ask? Well, it’s “an American online education platform on which students can access tutorials and lectures pre-recorded by experts in various fields’. (I didn’t write that line. I copied and pasted it from Wikipedia.)

No underhanded plagiarism intended, though, as I believe MasterClass is the most helpful and professional resource that’s hit the net. It started as an idea floated between David Rogier and Aaron Rasmussen in 2014. They formed Yanka Industries Inc. and published their first MasterClass on May 12, 2015. Within the first few months, they signed over 30,000 subscribers,

MasterClass snagged a big fish for their first day in the derby. James Patterson, one of the world’s top-selling thriller writers, opened the show. I was among the first with a front-row seat, popcorn, and a drink. Since then, I’ve taken 21 MasterClasses in subjects ranging from writing to film production to cooking to motivation to science. You could say I’m a master class junkie.

If you’re not familiar with the MasterClass format, let me give you a brief introduction before we take a close look at how James Patterson’s thriller writing MasterClass unfolds. I truly believe subscribing to MasterClass and getting a wide exposure to A-List resources can do a lot for you as a writer. You’ll take your craft to the next level as well as increase your confidence, amplify your motivation, and create satisfaction (i.e. happiness).

Nothing in a MasterClass production is amateurish or cheesy. Their course material is audience appropriate and their film works rival anything you’ll see on Netflix. From the instructor’s poise to the perfect setting, you’ll fall under the MasterClass spell and stick to it through each session. Qualification—that’s as long as you’re passionate about the subject.

A typical MasterClass runs between 15 and 25 sessions. The segments range in time from 3-minute intros to more than 20-minute lessons. That makes for a class series of blocks at around 3 to 5 hours of total film time. It depends on the subject and the presenter.

There are three parts to a MasterClass production. One is the on-camera time where the presenter lectures and/or demonstrates. Two is a PDF workbook that acts as a script guide and notebook. Three is behind-the-scene access to material that adds value to your purchase.

Speaking of purchase, MasterClass has two fees. One is $90 for a single class. Two is $180 annually for an “All Pass”. For under two hundred bucks, you can buy an unlimited subscription that gives you access to all classes. Given there are well over 50 classes, that’s an exceptional value.

To say MasterClass recruits knowledgeable instructors is an understatement. These are the best-of-the-best in their field, and the MasterClass producers know that success sells. Like the promise in Steven Covey’s The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People, MasterClass delivers on the logic that successful people have it figured out, so be more like them.

I’ve swallowed the MasterClass KoolAid as you can tell from the tone of this piece. I make no apologies that I believe watching a MasterClass can do one thing for you, as a writer, above all else. I’ll tell you at the end, but first I want to list some MasterClasses I’ve watched and highly recommend to other writers.

James Patterson — Thriller Writing
Dan Brown — Thriller Writing
David Baldacci — Thriller Writing
Neil Gaiman — Storytelling
Malcolm Gladwell — General Writing
Joyce Carol Oates — Fiction Writing
Margaret Atwood — Fiction Writing
R.L. Stine — Children’s Writing
Judy Blume — Fiction Writing
David Mamet — Plot Writing
Aaron Sorkin — Screen Writing
Shondra Rimes — TV Writing
Ron Howard — Film Directing
Martin Scorsese — Film Producing
Bob Woodward — Journalism

My MasterClass interests go outside of what information I can glean on writing. Chris Hadfield’s class on space exploration is out of this world and Gordon Ramsey taught me how to make the best scrambled eggs without swearing at the stove. Wolfgang Puck? Excellent show. So was Annie Leibowitz on photography.

I’ll stop with name-naming. I want to take you inside an actual MasterClass, and I can think of no more applicable class for the Kill Zone bunch than James Patterson’s. Here’s his MasterClass curriculum taken from the show’s PDF.

01 Introduction: Your instructor, James Patterson—currently the best-selling author in the world—lets you know what he has planned for your class and what you’ll need to learn to start writing your own best-sellers.

02 Passion + Habit: Getting into the proper mindset is an essential first step to writing a best-seller. This lesson explores James’s secrets for staying focused, productive, and motivated.

03 Raw Ideas: How do you recognize a great idea? How do you figure out if it’s worthy of your effort? James spells out the techniques he uses to generate his ideas and then separate the good ones from the less compelling ones.

04 Plot: With the right plot, your reader won’t be able to stop turning the pages. In this lesson, James measures out his unique approach to developing plot lines that keep readers wanting more.

05 Research: For James, conducting in-depth research not only makes his writing better, it also boosts his credibility with his readers. Find out when and how James conducts his research and how he incorporates it into his writing in a thoughtful way.

06 Outlines — Part 1: James’ secret weapon is a comprehensive outline. Learn how he sets himself up for a fast and successful first draft. No matter what, don’t skip this lesson!

 07 Outlines — Part 2: James has never shown the outline for his best-seller Honeymoon to anyone (not even his publisher) until now. Follow along with the outline provided in your Class Workbook as James further explains his process.

08 Writer’s Block: Even when you’ve written as many books as James has (76 best sellers and counting), there’s still nothing scarier than staring at the blank page. Here’s how to conquer those fears.

09 Creating Characters: From Alex Cross to Michael Bennett, James has mastered the art of creating complex and memorable characters. Hero to villain, learn how to make your character stay with your reader well beyond the last page.

10 First Lines: Grab your reader’s attention quickly and make them hold on for dear life. James shares his tips for getting your reader hooked from the very first line.

11 Writing Dialogue: Dialogue should always push the story forward. Listen to James explain a few common dialogue pitfalls and easy ways to avoid them.

12 Building A Chapter: James is well known for his numerous short and snappy chapters. Learn how he propels the reader through the book with an outline as his roadmap.

13 Writing Suspense: The secret to suspense is…

14 Ending The Book: We’ve all read great books with terrible endings. Of the infinite possible endings, learn how James chooses the right one.

15 Editing: James is liberal with a red pen; his editing is key to keeping the reader engaged. Learn how to trim the fat with our interactive editing assignment.

16 Working With A Co-Author: When does James decide to use a co-author and is it a true collaboration? In this lesson, we meet two of his most trusted co-authors who share their process for making a collaboration truly successful.

17 Getting Published: Author of 76 best-sellers and holder of the Guinness World Record for the first person to sell over 1 million eBooks, James knows a thing or two about getting published. In this lesson, he shares what he’s learned.

18 Book Titles And Covers: Readers do judge books by their covers. What should they think about yours?

19 Marketing The Patterson Way: Before publishing his first book, James was an executive at a top ad agency in New York. Find out what James learned from his time in advertising and how he used it to change the book marketing game.

20 Hollywood: What happens when Hollywood takes an interest in your story? Sit back and listen as James shares the best and worst moments from his time on the set.

21 Personal Story: Every master begins as a student. James shares his long, winding path to becoming the world’s best-selling author.

22 Closing: You’ve been given the tools to help write your next book. Now what?

It’s hard to say the main takeaway, but I’d have to say it’s how much James Patterson stresses about outlining your work before starting the overall draft. He’s a plotter, through & through. Me? I’m more of a pantster, but I’m not here to argue with James Patterson’s success.

Nor do I dispute the amazing success following the names Brown, Baldacci, Gaiman, Attwood, Blume, Oates, Sorkin, and so on. These are top-caliber craftspeople. But as I watched their personalities unfold on the screen, I got the distinct impression these are not born-on-third-base people. They’re self-made professionals.

This realization made me think. If they can make it, maybe I can, too. So I looked for common denominators running through each class and what their experiences presented in their MasterClasses can do for a writer. Here’s what I found.

All presenters say there’s no set formula for success—no magic bullet.

There are processes to follow and there are principles to follow. However, each success story comes from trying new things and finding what works for the individual.

All presenters find the story.

They intimately understand their craft whether it’s fiction writing, screenwriting, directing and producing films, cooking, or flying a starship. In the spine of every success, there’s a story. A successful story they made happen by improving their craft.

All presenters do the work.

They didn’t slide into home from third. Most, if not all, struck out many times before they got a line-drive to first base never mind cracked it over the Green Monster. These MasterClass writers sat alone with their sore butts in the chair and their blistered fingers on the keys for a long, long time. They did the work.

All presenters have critics.

They get 1-Stars on Amazon and rotten tomatoes thrown at them. It goes with the game, and they grow tough hide. They learn from valid criticism, they trashcan the trolls, and many no longer bother to read their reviews.

All presenters have passion.

Some MasterClass instructors say this directly. With some, passion naturally flows from their style. Their words, their body language, their dress, and their demeanor show it. Everything about them oozes passion—controlled passion—and it infectiously slides onto the student.

Gordon Ramsay says, “Find a passion because everything else falls into place once you’ve got that track set.” Chris Hadfield’s quote is this. “Every single step you take in the direction of your dreams is one that will make you happier and more satisfied with yourself.” I think the space-man sends a universal message.

I’m passionate about writing. I know that improving my craft by watching MasterClass leads to greater satisfaction and happiness. And, I believe that’s what Masterclass can, above all else, do for you as a writer—make you feel happy.

*   *   *

Garry Rodgers is a retired RCMP homicide detective. He went on to a second career as the person no one wants an appointment with — a coroner. Garry’s business card used to say, “When Your Day Ends, My Day Starts”. His boss made him get rid of it.

Since then, Garry Rodgers reinvented himself as a crime writer who constantly strives to improve his craft and find satisfaction through indie-publishing electronic words. Garry also finds happiness by putting around the saltwater near his home on Vancouver Island in British Columbia on Canada’s Pacific coast.

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24 thoughts on “What MasterClass Can Do For A Writer

  1. I’ve been looking at Masterclass with longing and wistful sighs for some time now. There’s just no money for it in the budget. But damn if you haven’t teased me, Garry. You sure make a good case for them. Great post, thanks for the inside look!

    • Glad it triggered your interest, Carolyn. Yes, there’s a price attached and that’s compounded for us Canucks when the $180 USD coverts to $235 CAD. I checked to see if MasterClass accepts installments but they don’t. They do have a 30-day refund policy.

  2. Be careful with these folks. You have to subscribe in a very certain way if you want to have any hope of a (partial) refund if you’re dissatisfied. Also, cancelling is quite difficult. There have been BBB issues.

    Sorry for the negativity, but I thought it worth mention because this isn’t cheap.

    Thank you.

    • I’ve had nothing but good experiences with MasterClass, Carl, so I’ve never asked for a refund. Their refund policy seems quite clear and if there was anything shady with them I’d think so many high-profile people wouldn’t lend their names to it.

      • Mr. Rodgers, I probably should have said nothing as it’s not my own experience I was referring to. I was only surprised by the reviews.

        Thank you, sir.

        • No problem at all, Carl. I appreciate people who comment and offer information regardless whether its positive or negative, as long as it’s true. I can’t say I’ve read any bad reviews on MasterClass… not like some that are on my Amazon sales pages 🙂

  3. I saw the ads when it first started up, and I was tempted with some of the grilling courses as presents.

    Are these just recorded chats, or is there some kind of interaction like questions?

    As a former writing teacher, I’m a firm believer in the value of hands-on instruction be it in person, by chat, or email, particularly for newer writers. Theory is great, but specific questions and personal connections are better.

    If you are too poor for courses like this, nothing beats finding good instruction blogs and clicking on the articles about the subject at hand. In many cases, like me, the teacher will be happy to answer questions.

    • There is no direct interaction with the instructors, Marilynn, but they do have a segment called Office Hours where you can post a question and the instructor may respond. There is plenty of opportunity to interact with other students, though.

  4. Garry, Thanks for this info. You convinced me to take a look at the MasterClass site, but I can’t find where to sign up for just one class. They push you right into the annual membership. I may want to try one if they let me sign up for a single.

    I find I like learning mostly from written material because I can control the pace (video is usually too slow) and the order of things.

    One course I have found very helpful is James Scott Bell’s “How to Write Best-Selling Fiction” audio on The Great Courses. I listen to chapters when I’m in the car. I also listen to it while I’m exercising. I turn the volume on an exercise video to zero and listen to the Great Courses audio while I’m working out. (I love multi-tasking, don’t you?)

  5. I’m a MasterClass junkie too! I was gifted a subscription last Christmas. Best gift ever. FYI, MC may offer a buy one give one half off during the holiday season again this year. I’ll resubscribe. There’s so much to learn.

    • They certainly promote MasterClass as a gift, Maureen. Interesting about the holiday special. My subscription automatically renews and I’m very happy to let them do that. 🙂

  6. I love my MasterCraft subscription, though I confess I don’t use it for the writing stuff. It’s not that there’s no room for improvement, but I’d rather sharpen my skill in the kitchen and at the poker table. Ron Howard’s sessions on directing were the only course I found disappointing. Aaron Sorkin was interesting on screenwriting, as far as his material was concerned, but I did not enjoy his presentation skills.

    • Hey, John. I wasn’t all that impressed with Ron Howard, either, but it was still worth watching, IMO. I’m not a gambler but I love the kitchen. Next on the culinary list to watch is Gabriela Camara Teaches Mexican Cooking. Can’t wait till MasterClass releases John Gilstrap Teaches Drinking.

  7. Thanks for the in-depth look at Master Classes, Garry.

    I sat through Patterson’s Master Class and had a different experience. Overall, I wasn’t impressed with the content. It’s been a while, but I recall him saying something like, “Let your publisher handle the marketing,” which wasn’t even remotely helpful. I also found his so-called “secrets to success” still largely unknown, other than the fact that he no longer writes his own novels.

    That said, Dan Brown’s Master Class interests me. And so do some of the others you mentioned. Did Dan Brown mention where he lives? *Spoiler Alert* New Hampshire. 🙂

    • Patterson is pretty basic for someone at your writing level, Sue. I think you’ll find Dan Brown much the same. However, Neil Gaiman is a different story. I got a lot out of his storytelling advice.

  8. Garry, MasterClass should give you lifetime membership AND feature you on their advertisements. You are extremely persuasive. I’ve seen the trailers — I keep running across the one by Neil Gaiman, for some reason — but you may well prompt me to take the plunge. I want to clear the deck timewise so that I don’t get into the cycle of 1) purchase; 2) watch twenty minutes of a presentation on the first day; and 3) watch nothing else until the twenty-ninth day and decide “Gee, this thing isn’t working” but I’m seriously giving some thought to it. Thanks for another great and informative post.

    Do you have any of those business cards left over? My current one bears the legend “Forty years of experience in causing and solving problems.”

    • Actually, I am a MasterClass plant, Joe. I’m waiting my show called “Garry Rodgers Teaches How To Sling BS”. 40 years causing & solving problems sounds like a chicken/egg thing to me. 🙂

    • BTW Joe, my current business cards are toe tags I stole from the morgue and put self-promoting stickers on. I personalize them, so if you’d like me to kill you off, I’d be happy to mail you a tag.

  9. Thanks for the input on MasterClass. I’ve seen the ads but never took the leap & didn’t know anyone who had so wasn’t sure about them.

    Actually I’m proud of my self control–speaking only for myself, I tend to put off writing and say things like “maybe if I take one more class,” or “maybe if I read one more book on writing.” But of late (FINALLY!), when I see things like this I’ve been good about exercising self control and telling myself “NO! Sit down. Shut up and write!” I’ve used “learning about writing” as a delay tactic for so long (and I do mean L-O-N-G) that I don’t bite any more on writing education content (TKZ contributors being the exception) unless it offers something super unique that I haven’t heard before.

    • I hope this post was helpful, at least to get one person’s opinion and experience about MasterClass, BK. I’ve thought about this over the past day, and it occurred to me that the writing classes shouldn’t necessarily be called …… Teaches Writing. Rather, they’re more like …… Discusses Writing.

      The MC format is more like a relaxed discussion with the presenter, and I came away with an understanding of how each presenter thinks. I didn’t get specific tips on “put the comma here”, or “you have to use American spelling there” and that sort of thing. The real value I got was an overall mindset impression from pretty big players who I’ll never get a chance to meet in person and discuss writing. Or what it’s like to look at the stars from space from someone who’s been there 🙂

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