If you’ve not come across MasterClass before, it’s a very slick website that offers courses from some huge names in the world of writing (and in quite a few other fields too).
Their course tutors include Dan Brown, Margaret Atwood, Judy Bloom, Malcolm Gladwell, R.L Stine, and Neil Gaiman: a truly impressive line-up that you’d probably pay a hefty fee to see speak in real life.
Each course is structured as a set of short video lessons, and these lessons are normally around 10 minutes long (though they vary from 5 minutes to about 25 minutes). There are around twenty videos within each course.
I took James Patterson’s class, so I’ll be talking mainly about that here. As you’ll see from my explanation of the pricing in a moment, though, MasterClass is definitely better value if you want to take several of their classes rather than just one.
MasterClass isn’t especially cheap: $90 for a single class (lifetime access), or $180/year for the All-Access Pass.
If you want to take two classes within a year, you might as well go for the All-Access Pass and get every other class thrown in for free.
(Note that if you do opt to purchase a single class, you can later upgrade for full access, by paying the difference for the first year (i.e. $90) then the standard annual fee of $180.)
There’s definitely a push by MasterClass toward the All-Access-Pass: if you click to buy a single pass, you’ll be shown the All-Access-Pass option very prominently, and if you own a single class, you’ll see an “upgrade” prompt whenever you log in.
You can also choose to give a MasterClass or an All-Access-Pass as a gift to a writer friend.
I’d personally have liked to see the individual classes priced more cheaply, as it seems like they’re priced quite high to drive aspiring writers to pay for a $180/year subscription.
James Patterson’s MasterClass
I picked James Patterson’s MasterClass to try out, as I’ve heard quite a lot about it (both good and bad!) – plus he is, according to MasterClass, the world’s number one bestselling author.
As with all MasterClasses courses, James Patterson’s is very professionally produced. The video and audio quality is superb, the accompanying .pdfs are nicely designed, and the interface is very easy to use to navigate between lessons.
Patterson is friendly and personable, and I enjoyed listening to him chat about writing – it reminded me of listening to keynote speakers at writing conferences over the years. He’s cheerful and not too serious about the whole process of writing, too.
The lessons cover the whole novel writing process from coming up with an idea to getting published and marketing your book, taking in all the usual things you’d expect on the way: coming up with a plot, creating characters, writing a great first line, and so on.
It also includes a look at some less-discussed areas of writing, like collaborating with a co-author and what happens when Hollywood takes an interest in your story.
What’s Great About the Course
It’s James Patterson! For many aspiring writers, that’s enough to sell them on the course. If you enjoy hearing writers talk about their writing process, then you’ll probably have a great time watching all the videos.
The course production values are high: the videos are shot in high-definition, with great audio. I’ve bought online courses that cost more and that had considerably lower quality videos. I particularly liked that the videos were subdivided into “chapters”, making it easy to find my place if I needed to stop watching part-way through a video.
The course is divided into individual lessons, which are all fairly short – making it easy to work through it in bite-sized chunks. There are plenty of good tips along the way: I felt that all Patterson’s advice was solid (for instance, he advises against writing highly realistic dialogue – advice that I’d definitely agree with).
If you enjoy interacting with fellow course members, there’s the option to do that with a comments thread beneath each lesson – though since the course is permanently available, you may find that many of the discussion posts are old or go unanswered.
What’s Not So Great About the Course
The course is only supplied in streaming video format: I’d have liked a downloadable audio version, and I’d have loved to have a transcript for easy skimming.
I got the impression that this course was created by someone asking Patterson to share whatever was on his mind about a particular topic or theme – then it was cut up and stitched into lessons afterward. (You can see this in action at times: e.g. in Lesson 2, location changes at the “Believe in yourself” point). Personally, I’d have preferred a less chatty, more tightly scripted approach to the lessons.
The course covers a huge range of advice – and that means that you don’t get much depth on any particular area. I’ve read whole books on, say, editing – which is covered in here in a 9-minute-long lesson. The same goes for topics like writing dialogue (covered in 10 minutes here) and on getting published (covered in 11 minutes – I’ve seen whole weekend courses run on this topic).
That’s not to say that these materials aren’t valuable – but if you’ve already got half-a-dozen writing-related books on your shelf, or you’ve been to a few talks about “writing a novel”, you may well find you’re not learning anything especially new.
Should You Give MasterClass a Try?
If you’d love to hear some amazing writers talk about their craft (and teach you about what they’ve learned along the way), do give MasterClass a look. The All-Access-Pass isn’t cheap, but well worth saving for if you want to take more than one class … just watch out for the yearly resubscription.
I found it really interesting to hear James Patterson talk about writing, but if you just want to purchase the one class, you may decide that the $80 price tag is a bit much! Unless you particularly enjoy learning from watching videos, you might prefer to spend a lot less and buy two or three good books on writing instead.
MasterClass does have a 30 day money back guarantee period, though, so if you try it and decide it’s not worth the money for you, you can always get your money back.