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I had not heard of Malcolm Gladwell, before taking this course. But I am glad I discovered him. After taking this journalist’s masterclass you will be a better writer as well as see the world in a different way.
Writing to make the pieces fit
Like most writers who have created courses on Masterclass.com Malcolm starts out by explaining what inspired him to become a writer. For him, it is solving puzzles. Finding ways to present things in a way that makes sense to the reader, even if the subject is a complex one.
He has certainly been successful in doing this. Since 1996, Malcolm has worked as a New York Times staff writer and is the author of several best-selling social psychology and sociology books. Including, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference and Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.
This writer has a way of taking complex subjects, researching them, distilling them down and presenting them in a way that is accessible to the majority of people.
Using imperfect arguments to grab people’s attention
When you write non-fiction you are primarily doing so to inform. But, before you can do that, you need to grab people’s attention. That is where the imperfect argument comes in.
Stating the obvious is just going to switch most readers off. For example, if you were to say apples are not like oranges, people just think, of course, they aren’t and click away.
On the other hand, if you were to say apples are like oranges. Most people will pause and say what is this guy on about? Is he mad, what on earth makes him think that?
At that point, you’ve got their attention. Importantly, you have not had to lie to achieve this. In some ways, apples are like oranges. They are both fruits, they are round, have pips and are good for you.
That is a simple example of how to mildly irritate a reader or make then pause long enough for you to engage them in the conversation.
How to keep your readers engaged
In this part of the course, Malcolm explains how he uses facts and data to keep his readers attention. Provided you use data that your readers are actually interested in they will consume it and want to carry on reading.
This is the case even if there is a lot of data and it is complex. You just need to break the facts down into manageable chunks to enable everyone to follow your argument.
Malcolm also demonstrates ways to carry the reader along with you, so that they can follow your chain of thought. For example, peppering your articles with little treats, a few fun facts always lighten the mood. Doing this stops people from becoming mentally fatigued. People love anything that is a bit quirky.
In this section, Malcolm explains that including surprises and guessing games in your articles or books draws the reader in. When you pose a question and direct it at the reader, you immediately have their attention. A question forces them to stop and think. Often, they will have their own opinion. But, usually, they will still want to read on to see if you agree with them.
Using empathy also helps you to achieve a similar response. It makes people feel that you understand them and that you have something in common. We naturally gravitate towards people we have something in common with, which greatly improves the chances of them reading what you write.
How to research a non-fiction article
This was, by far, my favorite part of this writing course. It taught me a lot about how to uncover something fresh.
You do not want to simply rehash the most relevant information. As a writer, you want to bring something new to the table. Malcolm shares the sources of information that have helped him to come up with something original and new.
- The library
- Following the footnotes
- Getting out there and speaking to people
I for one will be visiting my nearest library a lot more. As Malcolm says they have already pulled all of the information you need together into one place and divided into relevant sections. Plus, of course, you have librarians to point you in the right direction and suggest other books that will fill in any remaining gaps for you.
It is important to look beyond the internet. After all, if you only search online, you are going to miss out on practically everything that was written prior to the 80s.
How to interview people when researching a book
Interviewing people is the best way to discover something new. But, you need to let the other person talk and learn how to listen properly.
Malcolm shows you how to be an active listener, to draw the other person out and get them to share what they are really thinking. One of the most surprising tips he shared was to keep the interview short and unscripted.
Knowing what to write about
Deciding which story to write is always tricky. There are just so many possibilities.
Malcolm has got into the habit of actively seeking out interesting people. Usually, once he gets to know them, he comes up with exceptional stories. He finds that one story will often lead to another. Generally speaking, interesting and unusual people are drawn towards one another. So, once you get to know one of them, a whole world of other possibilities opens up.
Looking at the fine detail can also help you to uncover gold. The fact that you are prepared to dig a little deeper enables you to uncover something new. It forces you to look at things from a different angle and see what most other people have missed completely.
How to develop and test out your story ideas
The act of explaining an idea to somebody else is a really good way to figure out how to tell the storyMalcolm Gladwell Teaches Writing – Masterclass
Testing out your ideas is crucial. It is the only way to know for sure if you have something before you dedicate time to researching and writing your story. There are several ways to do this.
One approach is to sit down with a friend or family member and explain it to them. Explaining something to someone crystallizes things in your mind. More importantly, it gives you a chance to find out whether they find your idea engaging. Physically sitting down with someone enables you to see from their body language whether they find your story engaging or not.
When you do this, listen carefully to their questions. This will enable you to understand what it is about your story that makes them curious.
Once you know you have a sound story idea, you need to grow it. Again, other people can help you to do this. Without you asking them to do so, a lot of people will tell you about a similar experience they have had. This will provide you with lots of fresh information and inspiration.
How to bring your characters to life
This section of the course came as a bit of a surprise to me. It never crossed my mind that a non-fiction writer would have characters in their pieces and need to develop them. Silly, I know because in books real people are developed into characters.
The reader cannot see and does not know the person being spoken about. So, you as the writer need to describe them and help the reader understand who they are and where they are coming from.
The example Malcolm uses is amazing. In the video, he draws a full picture of someone in just 2 or 3 sentences. An amazing skill.
Malcolm tells you how to go about doing the same yourself. I spent about 40 minutes doing the exercise in the workbook that goes with this video and achieved some surprisingly good results.
As you can see from my masterclass.com review you get a lot of extras when you take these courses. It really is worth taking advantage of them. Doing the exercises in the workbook can make a real difference to how much of what you learn goes in.
How to come up with the right words
This in-depth section is all about how to use language to appeal to anyone. Then guide your audience through complex ideas or stories.
It is partly about using the right words. But, how long your sentences are and the pace at which you present key points also plays a role. For me, a lot of what was shared in this section of the course was either completely new or something I do not currently do when I write. So, it was very informative.
The right way to use jargon
Jargon is a form of shorthand. Used in the right way jargon enables you to communicate quickly and more effectively.
It can be used to demonstrate how someone that works in a particular field or lives in a certain way thinks, feels and operates. But, you need to be careful about how you use jargon when you write. The problem is that when you use it too much or it is not properly explained it is easy to lose your audience.
Fortunately, Malcolm shows you how to get the balance right. He demonstrates how to use jargon to build anticipation and make your points more memorable. A very clever trick that I would never have thought of without Malcolm’s help.
The role of tone and voice in writing well
When someone picks something up and starts to read, they are doing more than simply working out if they are interested in the subject. They are also assessing who you, the writer, is.
If you come across as obnoxious, most people will not want to have anything to do with you. So, using the right voice and tone is essential.
Malcolm explains how to assess how you are coming across and adjust your approach so that readers will want to engage with you. He also explains how to manage your tone.
How to use humor and melancholy to engage with your readers
Humans are emotional creatures. When people feel a strong emotion, while reading something, they connect with the writer and their work. This makes you more memorable because it has more of an impact on their lives and the way they think.
Learning when and how to make your readers smile is a skill that is also well worth picking up. So is helping them to see the sadness of a situation.
Using examples from his own work, Malcolm shows you how to do both of these things. He shows you how to convey emotions without going over the top.
Creating titles that grab attention
Regardless, of what you write, you need to come up with a title that grabs attention. There are lots of little tricks you can use to do this. Malcolm provides you with five or six examples (Check it out here). Thinking about your title as if it were an advert works for me. It helps you to come up with something short and catchy.
How to revise what you have written
Going through what you have written and crafting it into a finished product is quite a protracted process. Most writers find that proofing and editing their work takes as long as it did to do the writing. It is without a doubt the most tedious part of the process.
Malcolm starts by pointing out that you need to manage your expectations. Most writers underestimate how long it takes them to produce a piece of writing.
They also have a tendency to strive for perfection at the first draft stage. Something that Malcolm points out is not possible. These are both mistakes I make, so Malcolm’s reality check was particularly beneficial for me.
One of the most interesting tips he shared in this section was to know your ending. Beginning at the end and working backward is counter-intuitive. But, perfecting the ending helps you to write with a purpose and as Malcolm says “polish the jewel”.
Getting the most out of reviews and feedback
Once your work gets out into the public domain, people are going to tell you what they think of what you have written. If the reviews are good that is great. But, inevitably someone is not going to agree with your point of view. Or, how you have approached a subject. Dealing with that situation can be difficult. But, there is a lot you can learn from criticism and feedback especially when you take the approach Malcolm suggests.
How to work as a writer
Starting your writing career is tricky. So, it is good to see Malcolm explaining how to get started in the industry. His most important piece of advice is to differentiate yourself. From the start, you need to create a niche and persona that makes you stand out.
What to read and how to read it to become a good writer
You will no doubt have been told, many times, that to be a good writer, you have to be a prolific reader. From my own experience, I can tell you that this is good advice. If I get busy and don’t read anything substantial for a few months, my writing suffers. My vocabulary shrinks and I tend to end up structuring things in a formulaic way. So, like most writers, I do my best to read, regularly.
But, it turns out that I have not been reading the best materials. Malcolm explains, across two videos, how and what writers should be reading.
The way to keep your reader in mind as a writer is first and foremost to be a reader.Malcolm Gladwell – Masterclass
Who is Malcolm Gladwell’s Masterclass writing course for?
This course is mostly about writing as a journalist and producing non-fiction pieces. Up to this point, all of the masterclass writer’s courses I have taken using my all-access pass were about writing fiction. So, I found this course quite interesting, if a little difficult to follow, at times.
However, overall I did enjoy it and I certainly learned a few things. It has also inspired me to read some of Malcolm’s work. Buy The Course Here.
Your job as a writer is to create an environment in which stories can be told.Malcolm Gladwell Teaches Writing – Masterclass