MasterClass: James Patterson Teaches Writing

JamesPattersonMC1MasterClass contacted me about their James Patterson writing course in June 2015.

James Patterson is a best-selling author in the crime, children’s, and other genres, and many critics have said that his books are more plot than characterization in recent years, while others have decried his use of co-authors.  This is a review of the course, not Mr. Patterson’s writing (just so we’re clear).

The course has 22 videos ranging in topics from passion and habit, outlining, first lines, suspense, and his personal story, as well as collaborating with co-authors.  Along with the videos, there are accompanying lesson plan PDFs and a discussion section for the students taking the course.  This allows you to get feedback from other students on the lesson and to share ideas.

There are two versions of the class workbook — one has the full outline for his book Honeymoon, so you can see how he outlines. This was a very helpful document for me because I haven’t written an outline of anything since high school.  This is not your high school outline with Roman numerals, etc.  It is much more detailed, and when he discusses why he outlines, you’ll understand the level of detail and why it is needed.

Patterson also holds office hours in which questions are submitted by students on video, and they answered by the author in the same manner.  He also offers critiques on raw ideas, research assignments, character development, and other topics from students.  The videos and the coursebooks were helpful, and I think his advice about agents, editors, selling books to Hollywood, and other points about writing are well expressed and should provide enough direction for writing students.  He stresses the need for an economy of words, no wasted moments, and clipping out the excess.  He’s amusing and self-deprecating.

MasterClass courses are an affordable $90, but their true worth will be in how dedicated you are to the lessons and the actual work.  One thing to keep in mind as a writer, is that if you are writing about something in science fiction, for instance, Patterson might not be the best mentor/teacher for you.  So, as you look for affordable writing classes to take, think about what kind of feedback and how much help you’ll need.

MasterClass also has offerings in photography, the art of performance, acting, and singing, and these courses are taught by big names like Dustin Hoffman, Usher, Serena Williams, Kevin Spacey, and more. 

On Handling the Truth by Beth Kephart — I’m Still Reading…

I have not finished reading Handling the Truth by Beth Kephart, and I’ll likely not have it completely read until next week.  But I wanted to share something that has never happened before — at least not to me — when reading a book of writing advice/tips.  I nearly cried; yes, cried!

I’m nearing page 100, and there’s a chapter about food and taste.  Kephart talks about how “a way of eating passes with your mother” following the death of her mother — a series of passages that are written beautifully and with deep honesty.  It is not my mother or her cooking that Kephart reminded me of, but that of my nana — funny, as I just shared a book with Kephart in which I talk a little bit about her.  Her cooking was the stuff of legend and unfortunately with her passing 15 years ago — can it be that long — at the age of 82, she took many of her cooking secrets with her.

How did she make that shake-and-bake stuff on chicken — only ever on chicken — taste so much better than when I make it straight from the box?  How did she get those mashed potatoes so buttery and creamy, there wasn’t a lump to be had or a spoonful that didn’t taste heavenly?  And most of all, how did she get those apple pies to not only be equal parts sweet and — not tart — but just a tad spicy, while ensuring the apples were al dente in a thick, creamy apple-y sauce that made your heart melt?  These are things I can never learn, nor can my mother, but these are the foods that rushed into my mind when I read Kephart’s passages.

Creamy seems to be a recurring theme with the foods I remember her making, and perhaps that’s because of her easy-going way with things, no matter how hard they seemed — even as death neared.  Most of all, I miss nana’s quiet support and encouragement, even when my cooking attempts as a young teen went very wrong and my writing attempts were even worse.  I’ve tried many times to recreate her mashed potatoes, her brownies, her oatmeal cookies, but only my attempts at banana muffins — the one recipe we worked on many times together — comes even close to tasting and being as moist as hers.

Perhaps this is what memoir means…and should be.

Tesco Presents: Creative Inspiration for Your Writing

While I’m away from the computer for a writing conference and just generally taking a break from the blog in the next week, I’ve got some posts pre-scheduled.  I hope that you enjoy them and I will be back to reply to comments when I return.

For today, I’ve got an interesting guest post brought to you by Tesco.  Without further ado:

With creative writing courses, books on writing, and specialty magazines dedicated to the craft, there’s no shortage of advice on writing or finding inspiration. But as one who has leafed through the magazines, read the books, and even taken courses, here is the advice I’ve found most helpful when it comes to actually finding inspiration.

Create Time to Write Every Day

While walking through a world-class gallery or sitting in a Parisian cafe likely tugs at your heart-strings more than sitting at the kitchen table with your journal or computer, the kitchen table is the way forward (though do bring a notepad with you if you plan on visiting the Parisian cafe, or the gallery, as something interesting might occur to you).

Inspiration can come in a flash, however it is definitely more important to create the time and space every day for inspiration to happen, not just hoping genius pays you a visit on your European vacation.

Making time to write every day is sound advice. For those who have made writing their career, not just a side-project, their routine almost always involves writing every day, or nearly so, with a minimum word-count as a goal. Inspiration also involves graft: once you’ve written a few lines or paragraphs, there is room for creativity to take hold of the story or poem, even if what you started with is ultimately abandoned for something more absorbing. Writing leads to more writing.

Read Every Day, as Much as Possible

If anyone ever says, “I don’t read while I’m writing, I don’t want to be too influenced by any particular writer,” pat them on the head and do the opposite. It’s a misguided person who thinks he or she will be negatively influenced by John Steinbeck, Walt Whitman or some other master. We should all hope to be influenced by geniuses like these.

Just as you should make time to write every day, make time also to read every day, whether that’s on the train (a Kindle is the perfect companion for a daily commute on public transportation), for half an hour before bed, or during your lunch break.

A well-known writer once said that everything you need to know about writing can be found in great books. So read for both inspiration and instruction. While there is magic in great writing that cannot be fully understood, there is technique that can be. Observe how scenes are constructed, how a great writer builds tension, then releases it. Great books will inform your creative process and inspire you to write. Indeed, something about reading gives us the courage to begin writing again.