MasterClass began publishing publicly in 2015 as an online education subscription platform. It gets better every year because they keep adding more instructors.
Is the all-access pass (£179/$180) good value for money?
This depends on whether you’re an effective and disciplined self-learner and and how much time you can dedicate to these MasterClasses without constant interruptions. Their high-definition video productions are first-class and the price to subscribe is very reasonable for what you get in return.
If you don’t have time to watch all the writing instructors I’ve provided a list below of who I believe are the best instructors in each category, followed by a more thorough review of each instructor based on delivery and content.
Before you sign up, keep in mind MasterClass often has special offers such as “Purchase a yearly all-access pass and gift a free pass to a friend” or “Try MasterClass as part of a seven-day free trial”.
I live in the UK. We had to abide by the ‘stay at home’ rule due to Covid restrictions for months on end so I had plenty of time to take advantage of the annual membership. I watched a total of 455 classes over a 12-month period up until mid-April, 2021. I was mainly interested in the writing MasterClasses but I also enjoyed several other courses: Photography with Annie Leibovitz, Creativity and Leadership with Anna Wintour, Interior Design with Kelly Wearstler, Dog Training with Brandon McMillan, and a few vids with Samuel L. Jackson just because he’s so cool!
David Baldacci gets my vote for the best writing instructor overall. You don’t need to be interested in thriller/mystery writing to take his course. His classes will appeal to writers of any genre.
Will these MasterClasses make you a better writer?
Yes, but you need to proactively listen to the instructors, take notes on what the instructors are saying, read the PDF workbooks, and apply their advice to your writing.
Please note this blog post is a subjective review of how well each instructor teaches their MasterClass. I’m not reviewing the quality of these instructors’ books, novels or screenplays. All the instructors are well-established experts in their field of writing.
If you’re looking for a particular instructor and they’re not on this list it’s because my subscription ended and I didn’t get a chance to watch them.
Before we begin the reviews, here’s a few tips on how to get the most out of your MasterClass membership.
1. Don’t adopt the attitude that I don’t write in that genre so I’m not going to watch that writer. Each instructor has a world of experience in writing in general and all of their classes are a goldmine of hidden gems.
2. Download all the PDF workbooks for future reference but make sure you type your own notes in Word as you’re watching each class. Only type what is meaningful for you. Save the workbooks to your desktop so you can read them when your subscription ends. Every person watching is at a different stage in their writing path so everybody will take a different set of notes that’s relevant to their needs. If you complete the workbooks while you’re watching each Masterclass you won’t be able to cover lots of different instructors in a 12-month period.
3. Don’t watch more than 10 lessons/videos per day if you really want to concentrate on what’s being taught.
4. Turn on the captions if you’re having trouble concentrating or if you’re tired.
Now, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. Below is a list of the best instructors, in my opinion, in each category. If you scroll down even further you’ll see each instructor has been given a score for delivery and content and I’ve provided a short summary of what I thought of each MasterClass.
• Best instructor for beginners is James Patterson
• Best instructor for experienced writers is Amy Tan
• Best instructor for short story writing is Joyce Carol Oates
• Best instructor for thriller writing is Dan Brown
• Best instructor for writing for children and adolescents is R. L. Stine
• Best instructor for writing poetry is Billy Collins
• Best instructor for screenwriting is Shonda Rhimes
• Best instructor for humour/comedy writing is David Sedaris
• Best instructors for plot structure are Neil Gaiman and David Mamet
• Best instructor for creating better characters is Judy Blume
• Best instructor for convincing dialogue is Aaron Sorkin
• Best instructor overall is David Baldacci
Below is my review of each writing instructor with a star rating for delivery and content. They’re listed in alphabetical order.
MARGARET ATWOOD TEACHES CREATIVE WRITING
Delivery ★★★☆☆ Content ★★★★☆ 23 lessons · 3 hr 43 min
Learn how the author of The Handmaid’s Tale crafts vivid prose and hooks readers with her timeless approach to storytelling.
Atwood is a fantastic writer and she instantly commands respect but her tone is a bit monotonous. You do warm to her as you watch more lessons and without a doubt some of her suggestions are golden. If you can get past the first few videos the monotonous tone actually takes on a lovely meditative quality.
Don’t forget to download Atwood’s PDF workbook to reference when you’ve finished watching her MasterClass. It’s one of the best because it’s packed full of her stories and advice. There are also links to books she recommends that excel in the first person or the third person, films you should watch, helpful assignments, a questionnaire you can use to create more believable characters, and hints on how to write the best first few pages of your manuscript.
Every now and then, Atwood gives you a cheeky smile and I think it’s her way of saying you don’t have to take every part of the writing process too seriously. It’s okay to make mistakes and start over. Atwood covers all the basics and she’ll appeal to both first-time writers and experienced writers alike.
DAVID BALDACCI TEACHES MYSTERY AND THRILLER WRITING
Delivery ★★★★★ Content ★★★★★ 18 lessons · 3 hr 46 min
In his MasterClass, bestselling thriller author David Baldacci teaches you how he fuses mystery and suspense to create pulse-pounding action.
Baldacci gets 5-stars for both delivery and content and this all boils down to his enthusiasm for writing, his approach to teaching the craft, and his brilliant suggestions. This makes him the best thriller/mystery writer to watch and the best person overall for anyone thinking about becoming a writer or if you’ve just begun writing your first novel.
An example of his genius is his suggestion to use the roller coaster method. Where there’s lots of tension you also need quieter times after something terrible has happened. Baldacci says the reader should be able to take a breath so they can collect themselves.
Baldacci is a fast-paced talker but he’s easy to follow and his passion for helping others makes his words compelling. Even though he’s a thriller writer, he’s an absolute master when it comes to plot construction and he’ll really appeal if you want to improve characterization. His suggestions could be applied to any genre.
Baldacci is also very good at explaining the publishing industry, royalties and world rights, what happens when your book is published in different languages, and the importance of a good relationship with booksellers if you want to go global.
JUDY BLUME TEACHES WRITING
Delivery ★★★★☆ Content ★★★★★ 24 lessons · 4 hr 50 min
In 24 lessons, Judy Blume shows you how to develop vibrant characters and hook your readers.
So how does she do this? Blume teaches you how to convey emotions by showing not telling, she shows you how to work with conflicting emotions, practise realistic dialogue, establish characters through plot twists, and go deeper into character, but one tip I particularly liked is her hint to think of your characters as real people. Download her workbook and you’ll see there are a lot more recommendations that will help you create characters people love and remember.
Some writers never know how to start the first chapter and every chapter that follows. Blume can help you get over this. You’ll also learn how to keep your story on track so it doesn’t go off into all sorts of tangents.
Out of all the writers, Blume is the most encouraging instructor and you’ll be pleased you watched her MasterClass.
DAN BROWN TEACHES WRITING THRILLERS
Delivery ★★★★☆ Content ★★★★★ 19 lessons · 3 hr 32 min
In his first-ever online class, best-selling author Dan Brown teaches you his step-by-step process for turning ideas into page-turning novels.
All of Brown’s videos are well-worth watching and I took lots of notes. There’s just so much you can learn from him. I have to admit if you’re thinking of writing a gripping thriller he’s your man but he’s also very helpful when it comes to plot structure. There’s also lots to learn on building tension. Brown is very good on how to approach the logistics of building a novel and characters and how to create a convincing villain and the puppet master who is pulling the strings to get the villain to do what he wants him to do.
Brown also emphasises the importance of research and how to go about this in the proper way. He gives good advice on how to find the best locations and absorb those locations so you can put all those details down when you’re starting to build the pages of your novel. These specifics are important because they’ll make your book seem more realistic and motivate you to get everything right.
Dan Brown is passionate about helping you to become a better writer. I couldn’t help but notice the veins in his neck are taut and constricted throughout his tutorials because he’s so emphatic and he’s putting so much effort and emphasis into his lessons.
BILLY COLLINS TEACHES READING AND WRITING POETRY
Delivery ★★★☆☆ Content ★★★★★ 20 lessons · 3 hr 44 min
In his first-ever online class, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins teaches you how to find joy, humour, and humanity in reading and writing poetry.
Don’t make the mistake that if you write fiction, not poetry, this Masterclass isn’t worth your time. Just reading poetry and analyzing it can be beneficial.
Collins has a pleasant, gravelly voice but I need to point out it that his tone may seem a bit dull to the younger generations, thus the 3-stars for delivery. But, in his class “Humour as a Serious Strategy” he admits he’s pretending to be serious in his videos. I would’ve liked to have seen him open up more and be less “serious”. That would have improved his delivery.
His “Introduction: The Pleasure Poetry Gives Us” Collins provides you with all the lovely reasons so many of us love poetry. In less than four minutes, you learn that good poetry modulates and affects your reading, words mean more and sound better, you move from one place at the start to a different place at the end, from the familiar to the unfamiliar, and this all rises to a crescendo where you end up unhinged.
He stresses the pleasure of companionship that comes from memorisation and when you learn a poem you internalise it and take it with you wherever you go. It’s about the romance of time, the need to seize the day, or carpe diem. It’s a call to action because we’re all running out of time in our lives.
Writing poetry has obviously given Collins the ability to speak and explain anything and everything in a very concise but deeply meaningful and insightful manner. He offers excellent guidance on how to create a good title for your poem and how to formulate the first few lines or stanzas. He also encourages you how to be imaginative with the subject. For example, you could write a poem about taking a boat ride with Joan of Arc!
Not only this, he teaches you how to shape the statue of your poem, he gives you good tips on using your imagination, rather than memory to write a poem, and he emphasizes how you need a literary sense of adventure to go off into new territory. He also talks about the art of what he calls “playing a visible game” and says he turns over the cards at the beginning of a poem to let the reader know what it’s about.
If anything here appeals to you then you should definitely watch Billy Collins. I promise you, he will not disappoint you.
NEIL GAIMAN TEACHES THE ART OF STORYTELLING
Delivery ★★★★★ Content ★★★★☆ 19 lessons · 4 hr 51 min
In his first-ever online class, Neil Gaiman teaches you how he conjures up new ideas, convincing characters, and vivid fictional worlds.
People often ask writers how they come up with ideas for original plots. Gaiman gives you the tools to do this. He explains how a plot is produced by bringing two ideas together and creating something entirely different ― hopefully a story no one else has ever considered writing. His approach, using confluence, is a wonderful way to think of original ideas.
Gaiman is also a very lateral thinker so his tips are all unique and come from his heart and his very own experiences. You’ll learn how to change a point of view in a story, modernize themes, switch a story element, and find your voice.
Gaiman is also a pretty cool guy in a grungy sort of way so he’s a lot of fun to watch and he annunciates every word he says so beautifully. You wouldn’t need to hire a narrator for his audiobooks. He would be the perfect narrator for his brilliant writing with his mesmerising voice. This is one of the better MasterClasses to choose from and you’ll learn more than just the basics from this fascinating man.
MALCOLM GLADWELL TEACHES WRITING
Delivery ★★★★★ Content ★★★☆☆ 23 lessons · 4 hr 54 min
In 24 lessons, the author of Blink and The Tipping Point teaches you how to find, research, and write stories that capture big ideas.
Gladwell touches on themes, unlike many of the other instructors, and how you can write more interesting, unique and even odd themes if you want people to start showing more interest in your books.
Gladwell tells us to throw perfection to the wind. He wants writers to spice up their writing in order to make it more captivating. You’d think that was an obvious point for writers to consider but sometimes it’s just easier to write the mundane and we need writers like Gladwell to help us get back on track.
Just watching Gladwell is captivating. He really holds your attention with his quirky personality. He writes non-fiction for readers who like to think outside the box. Gladwell is so personable and interesting you really want to read his books. Watching him is like sitting opposite him in an intimate restaurant and he’s talking just to you. Not so much for his writing expertise but mainly because he sounds so interesting, Gladwell is the man I’d like to be sitting next to at a dinner party.
Gladwell also emphasises the importance of humility when you interview someone or write about someone. This is helpful advice for writers who are starting to attract attention but Gladwell could easily be described as effervescent in his enthusiasm to explain everything. He uses the word “fascinating” a lot but the truth is Gladwell is the person who is fascinating to listen to and watch. He also has a beautiful, very husky and soothing voice.
DAVID MAMET TEACHES DRAMATIC WRITING
Delivery ★★★★☆ Content ★★★★☆ 26 lessons · 4 hr 51 min
This Pulitzer Prize winner teaches you everything he’s learned across 26 video lessons on dramatic writing.
David Mamet is very good at helping you fill in all the blanks when you’re stuck on the intricacies of plot structure. What I’m trying to say is when you write a story you might have a great plot idea with a wonderful beginning and ending but it’s the middle part which can let you down. Mamet’s suggestions help you think about all the parts in-between that make the plot go into all sorts of wonderful directions with twists and turns that tie in and correlate with each other at different points in the drama, book or film.
Mamet is a playwright who is very well-read and this is what makes him so captivating. He has studied the Greek classics and philosophers like Aristotle, psychoanalysts like Sigmund Freud, and Shakespeare as well in great detail and this dedication to learning and improving his mind has made him a master in his craft.
WALTER MOSLEY TEACHES FICTION AND STORYTELLING
Delivery ★★★★★ Content ★★☆☆☆ 13 lessons · 2 hr 18 min
In his MasterClass, Walter Mosley teaches you how to rethink genres and the “rules” of fiction and how to approach writing your own novel.
Mosley only has 13 videos and his MasterClass is the shortest overall. He has a lovely voice that makes for easy listening but his videos are there simply to inspire you to write and rewrite. You’ll learn how to create compelling characters that must evolve in good or bad ways or both, he stresses that language should be vivid, and he touches on the importance of showing not telling. In short, Mosley emphasises how important it is for the writer to “elevate from the pedestrian”.
Each instructor has a different approach to how much writing a writer should do in one day, one week, or one year, if you want to pursue a writing career. Mosley writes 1,000 words every day. Some writers think about what they’re going to write for months or even years and then spend six months typing at a furious pace, others write only a few days a week. If you only watch one MasterClass you’ll probably adopt that famous writer’s habits but if you watch all the writers you’ll discover it really comes down to personal preference and no approach is set in stone.
JOYCE CAROL OATES TEACHES THE ART OF THE SHORT STORY
Delivery ★★★☆☆ Content ★★★☆☆ 14 lessons · 3 hr 21 min
Literary legend Joyce Carol Oates teaches you how to write short stories by developing your voice and exploring classic works of fiction.
Oates’ delivery could be described as prim and proper so she’ll appeal to an older audience.
I really wanted to give Carol Oates a higher score but this wonderful writer didn’t grab me as much as the other authors and her tone sometimes made me want to go to sleep. I also took very few notes, proving I didn’t take a lot from her classes. On the upside, Oates strongly believes excellent writing stems from reading a lot of great books and classic literature and I completely agree with her.
Oates explains the most powerful writing comes from suppressed thoughts and feelings and subjects often considered taboo.
It’s worth mentioning how much I really enjoyed her advice on the way a writer can play with different forms of writing to improve their craft and I immediately wrote a short story after watching this lesson. Therefore, I can categorically say you will definitely be inspired by Oates if you watch her classes.
JAMES PATTERSON TEACHES WRITING
Delivery ★★★★☆ Content ★★★★☆ 22 lessons · 3 hr 31 min
James teaches you how to create characters, write dialogue, and keep readers turning the page.
Patterson is the perfect wordsmith to watch if you’re writing commercial fiction. That’s where the money is, so there should be plenty of people out there interested in his lessons. Patterson is older, wiser and more knowledgeable than most of the others and I’m not surprised he was the first writer MasterClass instructor to be chosen from so many, when it all began. However, I really didn’t get much from his lessons that I didn’t already know but don’t be put off by this review if you’re a beginner. He’s my number one pick as the best instructor for a first-time writer.
SHONDA RHIMES TEACHES WRITING FOR TELEVISION
Delivery ★★★★ Content ★★★★☆ 30 lessons · 6 hr 15 min
In 6+ hours of video lessons, Shonda Rhimes teaches you her playbook for writing and creating hit television. Rhimes is very good at describing how to pitch your premise and how important it is to present wonderful characters.
You can tell she’s a great producer on top of being an excellent screenwriter because she commands your attention when you watch her.
Her video “Creating Memorable Characters” is very good but her classes “Writing a Script: Structure”, “Editing your script”, and “Working in a Writers’ Room” are her best and well-worth watching.
Hollywood is often described as seedy, fast, and impossible to penetrate unless you have connections. Kudos to Rhimes for being one of the few instructors who talks about making people who work with you and for you feel valued as well as giving them plenty of opportunities. She stresses how important it is to be nice and kind and to have fun. All this is discussed in her video “Showrunning”.
In short, Rhimes’ delivery is great. She smiles a lot and gives you plenty of constructive advice, especially if you’re interested in screenwriting. She also speaks with enthusiasm and comes across as a very kind, humble and approachable person.
SALMAN RUSHDIE TEACHES STORYTELLING AND WRITING
Delivery ★★★★☆ Content ★★☆☆☆ 19 lessons · 4 hr 17 min
Booker Prize winner Salman Rushdie teaches you his techniques for crafting believable characters, vivid worlds, and spellbinding stories.
I really did expect so much more from Rushdie. Knowing he writes books that have caused so much controversy I thought I was going to be bowled over with some of his ideas but I was disappointed. His suggestions were just so standard and he pontificates on one point for too long, not giving himself enough time to teach us more.
On the upside, he speaks very well, enunciating each word with a very clipped British accent. The production team also did an excellent job providing scenes of India as well as old videos and photos of Rushdie.
DAVID SEDARIS TEACHES STORYTELLING AND HUMOUR
Delivery ★★★★☆ Content ★★★★☆ 15 lessons · 3 hr 24 min
New York Times bestselling author David Sedaris teaches you how to turn everyday moments into seriously funny stories that connect with audiences.
Sedaris is here to teach humour and you’ll discover he does that well after watching his videos. Don’t expect him to make you laugh as you watch his lessons, instead you can expect very serious and constructive advice on how to become a better non-fiction writer and reader to audiences.
Sedaris finds humour in everyday situations and he’ll often reference his family and friends. You can consider yourself lucky you’re not one of his relatives because it can get pretty personal. However, his sister Lisa joins him in his lesson “Writing About Loved Ones” and she explains her brother is gentle in his approach and removes anything anyone finds offensive immediately and that’s commendable.
He doesn’t just give you writing suggestions, he tells you how to live a better and more fulfilling life. For example, he says that when you’re observing a situation, don’t interrupt, let the situation play its way out to see how a potential story could be formed.
Sedaris teaches you what would be a good essay length and how many characters you should put in an essay. His subjects can be irreverent, sexual and highly sensitive. Nothing is off limits for him and he likes to spark controversy. He wants to evoke feelings and reactions from his readers and people who listen to him tell his stories. Sometimes you feel sorry for him because he appears vulnerable but this could be something Sedaris deliberately orchestrates.
You can’t watch Sedaris without developing a personal opinion of him. At times, he comes across as an egoist and it makes you wonder whether he wants to get more out of his life than just being an author. He seems like a man who enjoys his celebrity status. He writes to make people laugh but his serious tone and the lines on his face, especially the vertical frown between his eyes, makes you wonder whether he’s actually a pessimist.
If you have any doubts about Sadaris’ character after reading this, watch his video on “Growing as a Writer”, and you’ll discover he’s a kind and gracious writer who really appreciates his readers. He’s also someone who really wants to help you become a better writer.
AARON SORKIN TEACHES SCREENWRITING
Delivery ★★★☆☆ Content ★★★★☆ 13 lessons · 2 hr 23 min
Aaron Sorkin teaches you the craft of film and television screenwriting. He’s very good at showing you all the details that go in to creating a fantastic screenplay.
Both screenwriters, Aaron Sorkin and Shonda Rhimes, bring in a group of young wannabe screenwriters to a roundtable discussion for selected case studies but they take a different approach. Sorkin is more interactive with them and he shows more interest in his guests’ screenplays. Rhimes, on the other hand, basically asks them to comment on her own work for Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. I prefer Sorkin’s approach. I feel like I learned more from his case study videos.
Sorkin is quick to admit, right from the start, he’s much better at writing than speaking but that’s not the only reason he gets 3-stars for delivery. He has a strange sense of humour. In his classes with wannabe screenwriters, he convincingly puts down a couple of them and seems to relish in their embarrassment before telling them he’s just having a laugh. Awkward! That aside, Sorkin’s lessons on screenwriting are full of helpful tips and you’ll come away from his classes knowing a lot more about how to write better, stronger dialogue.
R. L. STINE TEACHES WRITING FOR YOUNG AUDIENCES
Delivery ★★★★☆ Content ★★★★☆ 28 lessons · 3 hr 53 min
The Goosebumps author teaches you how to generate ideas, outline a plot, and hook young readers from the first page.
When I started watching Stine’s lessons I thought I was going to be bored. Boy, was I wrong! He made me giggle more than any other instructor!
Stine is obviously the best person to watch if you’re planning on writing children’s books and even if you write fiction for older readers you’ll appreciate all of his advice. I wish I’d watched his lessons before I published my two books because I could’ve avoided quite a few mistakes.
Not sure whether to write in the first person or the third person? Stine will guide you in the right direction. Not sure how to create a scary story with a hint of humour? Stine will give you all sorts of terrific ideas. His workbook includes 20 fantastic storylines for anyone who wants to write children’s horror.
AMY TAN TEACHES FICTION, MEMORY AND IMAGINATION
Delivery ★★★★★ Content ★★★★★ 14 lessons · 3 hr 12 min
This celebrated author of The Joy Luck Club shares her approach to voice, story, and the craft of bringing narratives to life from beginning to end.
Amy Tan is the perfect choice for more experienced writers. Tan goes above and beyond to share with you some of her unique techniques that have helped her get to where she is today and that’s at the top of the writing game. Her suggestions for better characterisation are excellent and you’ll learn a lot on how to develop a better ending for your book.
There’s also some really great advice on finding your inner voice and writing naturally. These are just a couple of the many subjects she covers that the other writing instructors haven’t touched upon and this is important because agents are looking for writers who have a unique inner voice with an individual writing style.
I hope you enjoyed all of my reviews. Good luck on your writing journey!
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