MasterClass: who's tried it?

For some time now, ads for something called “MasterClass” have been appearing in my Facebook feed. I’m sure that’s a result of the different groups and subjects I’m interested in; the site’s algorithms are pretty spot-on. In particular Neil Gaiman’s storytelling class keeps popping up and I’ve watched the promotional video for it because he’s a hero of mine.

It impressed me enough to go to the site and look around a bit. I see there are classes offered by several popular writers, such as James Patterson, Dan Brown, and Margaret Atwood. While the prices are out of the question on my budget, I wondered whether anyone has tried this program out and if so, how did you like it?

And if you’re curious, here’s the link:

I’ve seen the Aaron Sorkin one on screenwriting (I’m a Sorkin fanboy). It was a fascinating insight into his approach, but ultimately it didn’t change the way I approach my own writing. Then again, I’ve got my “philosophy of writing” down, so was perhaps less in the market for a life-changing lesson. Also, there was quite a bit of overlap between Aaron’s story fundamentals (“Objective and Obstacle”) and what I’d worked out for myself (“Protagonist, Objective, Obstacle, Escalation, Ending”), so again perhaps I was less inclined to see it as transformative.

That said, it was well produced, intelligently structured, and thoroughly entertaining. In short I’m glad I spent the money.

It’s worth noting that it also comes with a community forum for others that have signed up to the class. I’ve not availed myself of that at all.

I heartily recommend the $180 All-Access Pass.

The classes are all very interesting and well-produced; some are more superficial than others, but there’s always some facinating insight.

I’ve found that since I’ve been a pro screenwriter for a long while, the writing classes didn’t surprise me much. That being said, I’ve found some amazing insight in the non-writing classes. Steve Martin’s Comedy Class contains some world-class advice about how to be a better artist of any kind, and how to navigate the business. Martin Scorcese’s Filmmaking Class teaches how to find your unique artistry and nurture it – because it’s your ultimate competitive advantage. Usher’s class on Performance gives some great insight into building a work ethic and how to conduct yourself in success, and how to drive yourself when success seems elusive.

They now have an iOS app and an AppleTV app as well. When I have a long drive to a meeting, I often listen to MasterClass on my iPhone.

I don’t think one class for $99 is a good bet, because they are a little uneven. The $180 All-you-can-eat plan is a treasure trove.

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Yes, I really plan on doing that.

What will have to happen first is that I will have to have exhausted all my own ideas. Then, I will definitely do that.

The thing is, I think this is a good strategy (waiting for a fallow period) because the $180 deal is a one year deal. Yes, you get access to everything. 365 days later, you have zero access. Unless it was good enough to re-up, for another 180. But honestly, 49c a day? Incredible bargain.

There are at least 9 writers and 3 musicians/recording engineers that I want to get into this with, so I will spend a month with each of them, essentially.

There are tons of experts out there hawking their Professor Google insights, but MC is probably the cream of the crop.

Yes, I tried, very cool. satisfied more than

The Neil Gaiman one was amazingly good fun, because he’s obviously such an interesting guy.

But it didn’t really change how I write or give me any concrete things to do to be a better writer. You can get much the same effect from his freely-available blogs about how to write.

The one exception was the chapter on writing for comics, which was suddenly very specific, but I guess that isn’t the most useful lesson for most of us.

If you want something to give you a clear idea of what to do, try the save the cat writes a novel audiobook if you’re a plotter, or the Stephen King On Writing audiobook if you’re a pantser. Better still, choose the one you’re not.

If you’re not rolling in cash, you’d feel a bit let down if you spent all that cash just for the Neil Gaiman one, genius though he is.

The James Patterson Masterclass was chock full of practical advice. I also checked out the Joyce Carol Oates short story one, and it’s patchy. A couple of good chapters with practical suggestions (I loved the idea of a short story in a Q&A format), but a lot of stuff you know already, like how it’s good to talk to old people or have a room with a nice view.

If you’re like me and really want to know what makes Neil Gaiman tick, read his blog posts on writing, and then download the complete Sandman series and read one a day, and make notes on what the hell just happened there, and what ideas does it give you - that worked for me! :smiley:

I feel bad about Joyce Carol Oates now, reading that. It’s patchy in a good way, ok? :slight_smile: But none of these masterclasses are worth the billion pounds they’re charging, in all honesty. That’s not the writers’ fault in any way. If the classes were $10 or ten pounds each, they’d be totally worth it.

I got it as gift at Christmas the all in pass and its great

That would be a lovely gift!

Yes was really surprised and have to consider it one of the best gifts have received

I did the David Mamet course and I’d do it again. In fact, I could, because you get permanent access, I think. I wouldn’t call it coherent, exactly, but it did have some helpful tips, most of which came when he realized , after a string of entertaining (and useful in their own way) anecdotes, that he better leave us a take-home point. Following the meandering course of his mind was as fun as the hard-earned wisdom he doled out along the way. Some of the exercises in the accompanying workbook proved quite useful. Some of the basics I’d learned earlier in grad school and elsewhere, but if I hadn’t, I’d have found them valuable, and it was refreshing to hear them again, and I learned some new gems as well. The course also gives you access to an online community of fellow participants. I already have that with a playwrights group, but if you don’t, that could be another asset. I saw it with a collaborator, so that makes it half price, right?

I was a bit disappointed.

Most of the advice is good. Aaron Sorkin seems to have it the best, with his ‘Intention and Obstacle’ approach. He also says the worst thing to do is tell the reader what they already know. I could not agree more.

David Mamet is a bit scattered, but he is also as interesting a person as anyone., His best advice is ‘Somebody wants something. What happens if they don’t get it? Why now?’ I try to apply that daily to every scene.

Dan Brown, 300 million copies notwithstanding, can’t write his way out of a wet paper bag. Skip him.

What is disappointing, though, is that this all just confirms what I’ve realized all along—you can’t teach someone how to write. It’s not possible. It’s 97% a product of the adaptive unconscious, and that is behind a locked door, and how to create can not be put into words.

James Scott Bell disagrees, and tries valiantly to do this ( he’s not part of MasterClass yet, but he should be).

What can be taught is technique. What he and Shawn Coyne of Story Grid do teach, is that. Technique. And they both do it well. If you take an MFA program, those also can’t teach you how to write. They also teach technique, but instead of teaching how to write, they tell you to read, read, read and hopefully learn by osmosis (as they cash your checks).

Technique is also very important. But learning how to write can’t be taught. The good news? It can be learned.