Give Yourself a Master Class

Writers are always learning. |

There's a time to focus on the small, micro-movements that help us grow. And then there's a time to go big. To invest in splashy, obvious growth.

A master class.

The educational big guns.

Now, you can absolutely pay to join a class, or take a course, or something like that. Having a live teacher is brilliant and oh-so helpful. 

But you can also design a course yourself.

1. Start with a bit of self-reflection. 

Where is your writing weakest? Where do you flinch? What do you shy away from? What do you apologize for? What glares the most when you reread your work, or when others read it?

Or, to take it a different way, consider one of my last assignments at college. The professor of my senior seminar class (the final class in the English major curriculum) told us to do the project that we hadn't done yet. To tackle the thing that was still missing in our education.

Where had we slipped through the cracks, what topic had we not fully explored, what still needed to be dealt with before we graduated?

We made up our own assignment. And while the openendedness of it stymied me at first, I created one of my favorite assignments ever. (I interviewed half-a-dozen writing professors and designed my first year of full-time writing. It was exactly what I needed to do.)

So: what is the project that you haven't done yet? What's missing in your writerly education?

2. Set your calendar.

How long of a class do you want? Any length will be helpful, so don't worry about wrong answers.

You can have a one-day workshop, a weekend retreat, a week-long intensive, or a semester-long course: it's up to you.

(Even one day of focusing on a problem area can change your writing for the better, so don't rule it out!)

3. Get yourself a teacher.

I love finding a writing book that deals with the specific thing I'm trying to tackle in-depth. Or, there are fantastic books that cover a variety of topics: which is good news for your next self-designed course! 

Try to find a book (or blog, or manual, or website) that has a kindly attitude, if you can. And one with exercises is especially helpful. The more exercises you do--the more we immerse ourselves in this new way of working!--the better. Be your best student self, and practice practice practice.

4. Investigate novels that practice this skill well.

Dive into your bookshelves and scout around. Rifle through your favorite novels. How do those authors tackle your chosen topic? Find examples. Pick your favorites. 

And then: Copy them out. Better yet, copy them by hand.

Why? Because there's something about writing someone else's prose that helps you zero in on how they accomplished it. How they strung it together.

I don't know why, but this works, and works well. It gets the rhythms into your fingers, into your brain.

5. The extracurriculars: Who else can you learn from?

I love the idea of learning tactics and ways of thinking from non-writers. 

So, if you're studying description, go learn a bit from painters and photographers. How do they see the world? How do they make the creative choices they make?

If it's dialogue, eavesdrop your heart out. (In a restaurant, in a coffee shop. Get close to people who are talking loud enough for you to hear. And jot it all down, exact quotes whenever you can. Get the pace of how real people talk. The way a conversation can turn on a dime. How they misunderstand each other.)

If you're working on adding sensory detail, go to a zoo. Find a place to sit, and then close your eyes. Listen. And if you're really brave, smell. Take a few deep breaths, and then write down how that goes for you.


Self-education is one of those things that we'll always be doing. We're never done as writers. 

And right now, that sounds like a good thing. After all, we love this job, right? There are a million opportunities for us to lean in, to keep practicing, to get better. And to feel the thrill of growing in our craft.

What will you be learning next?