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Can MasterClass Really Make You A Better Writer?

Since 2014, MasterClass has been an American-based online education platform offering access to tutorials and lectures that have been pre-recorded by experts across multiple disciplines. For writers and other creatives, it's an excellent way to receive top-shelf instruction by some of the most well-known novelists, poets, and short-story writers of our times without having to enroll in a university course where these same creatives often teach.

For writers and other creatives, MasterClass offers an excellent way to receive top-shelf instruction by some of the most well-known novelists, poets, and short-story writers of our times
For writers and other creatives, MasterClass offers an excellent way to receive top-shelf instruction by some of the most well-known novelists, poets, and short-story writers of our times without having to enroll in a university course where these same creatives often teach.

How did MasterClass begin?

MasterClass was the brainchild of David Rogier and Aaron Rasmussen and was first set up under the name of Yanka Industries. The website was published publicly under the MasterClass name on May 12, 2015, and had 30,000 sign-ups within the first few months of its release.

What are MasterClass classes like?

While varying in what they offer, each class has video lessons, exercises, workbooks, and interview sessions with the instructor. A typical class has about 10-25 video lessons that are 2-5 hours each. The classes cover topics ranging from writing and cooking to politics and video game design. Many of the instructors offer live demonstrations in their MasterClass if the topic is suitable for it.

How can I enroll in MasterClass?

I went to the MasterClass website to get an idea of how one might enroll and what is available for writers. I was first taken through a short quiz meant to narrow down the class offerings shown to me when I sign up. The first screen asked: "What are you interested in?" The following topics were available to choose.

  • Culinary Arts
  • Film and TV
  • Music and Entertainment
  • Writing
  • Sports and Games
  • Design, Photography and Fashion

Since my interests in MasterClass would be mostly in learning from bestselling authors, I chose Writing from this list. It's also possible to choose multiple topics, if you think you'd be interested in taking classes in them.

The next screen of the quiz asks me: "How do you like to learn?" The choices available are:

  • By reading
  • By listening
  • By watching
  • By doing
  • All of the above

Since I really learn from all of these methods, I chose all of them. The next page asks: "When do you like to learn?" The choices available are:

  • On my commute
  • During evenings
  • On weekends
  • Whenever I can
  • All day, every day

Finally, the last question asked is: "What devices do you use to learn on?" The choices available are:

  • Phone
  • Tablet
  • Computer
  • TV
  • Something else

At the end of this series of questions, I'm then taken to a page stating: "Because you're interested in writing…" There are several options for MasterClasses available that I'm shown on this page, including classes by bestselling authors like:

On that same page, I am offered an all-access pass with $50 off annual subscription. An all-access pass is currently $15 a month, billed annually. A single class with Margaret Atwood is $90.

Sample class offering from a bestselling author

When I click on the classes provided by Margaret Atwood, it reads:

Called the "Prophet of Dystopia," Margaret Atwood is one of the most influential literary voices of our generation. In her first-ever online writing class, the author of The Handmaid's Tale teaches how she crafts compelling stories, from historical to speculative fiction, that remain timeless and relevant. Explore Margaret's creative process for developing ideas into novels with strong structures and nuanced characters.


As an example of what these online workshops can offer writers seeking to learn from highly respected mentors, Margaret Atwood's MasterClass includes:

  • 23 lessons analyzing literary classics and her own work, with focus on crafting complex dystopias
  • A downloadable class workbook accompanying the class, with lesson recaps, assignments, and supplemental materials
  • Learn at your own pace and on whichever device best fits your preferences (mobile, desktop, or Apple TV)
MasterClass.com offers online workshops provided by bestselling authors like Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid's Tale.
MasterClass.com offers online workshops provided by bestselling authors like Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid's Tale.

The lessons are broken down as follows:

  1. Introduction—Meet your new instructor: Man Booker Prize-winning author Margaret Atwood. In your first lesson, Margaret shares her perspective on the art of writing and who ultimately gives your book its meaning.
  2. Getting Started as a Writer—Margaret encourages you to find your own path, overcome obstacles like fear, and start writing by sharing her own writer's story and creative process.
  3. Story and Plot—Learn what makes a strong plot. Margaret advises you to study myths, fairy tales, and other historical works of literature so that you can use them as building blocks for your stories.
  4. Structuring Your Novel: Layered Narratives and Other Variations—Margaret illustrates the myriad ways you can structure your story and create a multi-layered narrative, using the classic tales Little Red Riding Hood, Arabian Nights, and her own novel The Blind Assassin as examples.
  5. Who Tells the Story: Narrative Point of View—Choosing the right point of view to tell your story from involves a lot of trial and error. Margaret explains the impact this decision has on your story, and offers an exercise to help you explore the effects of various points of view.
  6. Point of View Case Studies—In this chapter, Margaret discusses her use of multiple points of view in Alias Grace, and why she wrote The Handmaid's Tale from the first person point of view.
  7. Bringing Characters to Life Through Detail—Actions and reactions reveal character, but so do details the writer thoughtfully weaves into the story. Margaret offers concrete tools to help you create nuanced, well-developed characters you know by heart.
  8. Creating Compelling Characters—Margaret teaches why the most compelling characters are often not very likeable, and delves into how gender plays into our expectations about character.
  9. Writing Through Roadblocks—Learn Margaret's advice for overcoming challenges such as constant interruption, writer's block, or a narrative problem you can't figure out how to solve.
  10. Crafting Dialogue—Margaret teaches how to use dialogue to reveal character and story, and discusses the importance of making your dialogue authentic to the time and place in which your narrative transpires.
  11. Revealing the World Through Sensory Imagery—The more specific your details, the more engaged your readers. Learn how Margaret uses The Handmaid's Tale to illustrate her approach to imagery.
  12. Prose Style and Texture—Learn the difference between style and description as Margaret illustrates two different prose style extremes—baroque and plainsong.
  13. Working With Time in Fiction—Margaret explains the significance of time in fiction, and offers advice on keeping readers oriented without compromising your story structure.
  14. The Door to Your Book: The Importance of the First Five Pages—From Melville to Dickens, Margaret shares some of her favorite opening lines and underscores the value of making your first five pages utterly compelling.
  15. Writing the Middle and Ending—Margaret teaches her approach to keeping readers engaged through the middle of your book and discusses the merits of closed and open endings to your story.
  16. Revision: Seeing Your Work Anew—For Margaret, revision is an opportunity to take a fresh look at your book and consider new possibilities. Learn the value of soliciting feedback from select readers, and the importance of a good line editor.
  17. The Novel and the Shifting Sands of Genre—Margaret discusses the evolution of the novel and asserts that the writer's objective should be to stay true to the foundational elements of storytelling, regardless of genre.
  18. Speculative Fiction—Learn Margaret's approach to writing speculative fiction and her advice on how to generate ideas and build your world in this genre.
  19. Speculative Fiction Case Study: The Handmaid's Tale—Margaret reveals the ideas and research that inspired The Handmaid's Tale, offering a first-hand look at some of these materials.
  20. Research and Historical Accuracy—Getting details right is critical in historical fiction and can lend believability to any story. Margaret emphasizes this point but also shows how to avoid letting research slow you down.
  21. The Writer's Path—Margaret reveals the one book she recommends to all writers, and shares inspirational stories from writers past and present to encourage you to persevere despite the obstacles you may confront.
  22. The Business of Being a Writer—From finding an agent, to getting published, and dealing with negative reviews, Margaret offers her perspective on the business of being a writer.
  23. Parting Words—Margaret bids her students farewell, sharing her desire to pass on her wisdom to the next generation of writers.

MasterClass offerings for writers

Obviously, MasterClass is a treasure trove of valuable information for writers and indie authors looking for advice from experts who have paved the path. Some other bestselling authors offering MasterClass workshops include James Patterson, Dan Brown (writing thrillers), David Mamet (dramatic writing), Joyce Carol Oats (the art of the short story), Shondra Rhimes (writing for television), and David Baldacci (mystery and thriller writing). With names like these offering to be your teacher, MasterClass's $15 all-access pass seems like a deal too good to pass up!

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