Writing Masterclasses: A Review (Part One)

Recently, I’ve been taking part in online writing classes via Masterclass.com, and I thought it might be beneficial to others for me to review a little of my experience so far. So, here we go.

Overview

Masterclass is an online streaming service that offers video lessons in a range of topics from world-renowned experts with wealths of experience. There are over 80 courses, consisting of twenty lessons at ten minutes each on average. Topics are grouped together under Culinary Arts, Design, Photography, and Fashion, Film and TV, Music and Entertainment, Business, Politics, and Society, Sports and Games, Science and Technology, Lifestyle, and of course Writing.

The writing classes are what this review is going to focus on, as it’s the particular thread I’m pursuing.

In total, at least right now, there are 251 video lessons on writing from twelve different writers: David Sedaris, Joyce Carol Oates, Neil Gaiman, David Baldacci, Billy Collins, Dan Brown, Margaret Atwood, R.L. Stein, David Mamet, Malcolm Gladwell, Judy Bloom, and James Paterson. These cover storytelling, writing comedy, drama, mysteries and thrillers, writing for younger audiences, writing poetry, etc.

Features

As a streaming service, you can access Masterclass via pretty much any device with an internet connection. I personally use the site ‘in browser’ via my laptop, but there are apps for the iPhone, iPad, Android devices, and Roku (though I hold my hands up here and will admit I have no idea what that actually is).

As well as the main video classes themselves, there are semi-regular ‘Masterclass Live’ special, one-off lessons.

There is a community forum to discuss the teaching on offer, ask questions, and request feedback on work, though I’m not sure how well this is moderated. From the brief look I’ve taken, it doesn’t seem like the instructors themselves interact with this space at all. Continue reading

NO Thank You to Toxic People

Fairly recently I introduced my husband to the song ‘I’m the one that’s cool‘ by Felicia Day/The Guild. I bought the single in iTunes years ago, and obviously still like it, otherwise I wouldn’t still be playing/sharing it, but it does contain one thing that drives me absolutely mad.

The song is about always being picked on – verbally and physically assaulted – for not fitting in while at school, and the tables having turned now both parties are adults. That’s fine. I like that things have changed, but the fact that Felicia is writing a song about it all these years later tells me that, despite those changes, the scars haven’t completely gone away. She still thinks about it.

This fits with my own experience. It makes me feel seen. But then comes the line:

I appreciate you for being cruel
I’m burning bright thanks to your rejection fuel

Which, quite frankly, boils my fucking blood. Because no, I do not and will not appreciate anyone for being cruel. No one ever burns bright because of ‘rejection fuel’, they sometimes survive and thrive despite it. And that’s only sometimes, because so many other people never make it that far. To say otherwise is doing a disservice to those people, and the people who do make it through the other side, as well as the bullies themselves. Because who the hell would ever feel the need to change and stop hurting people if they’re being told by the very people they damaged that, actually, no, it’s okay, you did me a favour?!

Sadly, this phenomena of giving thanks to abusers isn’t exclusive to The Guild. The two other songs that spring to mind are ‘Fighter‘ by Christina Aguilera, which includes the lines:

After all of the stealing and cheating you probably think that
I hold resentment for you
But uh uh, oh no, you’re wrong
‘Cause if it wasn’t for all that you tried to do, I wouldn’t know
Just how capable I am to pull through
So I want to say thank you

And ‘Thank You‘ by Jamelia, which puts it:

For every last bruise you gave me
For every time I sat in tears
For the million ways you hurt me
I just want to tell you this:
You broke my world, made me strong
Thank you

But I’m sure there are many more examples than that. I find it’s one of those things where, once you’re aware of it, you start seeing it everywhere. And okay, listen, I get it. I understand wanting to turn the narrative on its head – to make a positive out of a negative – but this is not the way to do it. Don’t thank your abusers, thank yourself. You got through their torment, whether on your own or with the help of others. If it feels too weird to be grateful to yourself, then thank the people who held your hand, let you cry on your shoulder, or offered you bandaids, not the people who made you need all those things!

Thoughts on Legacies in a Time of Lockdown

Content warning for mention/discussion of death. 

This is a post about publishing, about career-making (or breaking) decisions, and about having a life’s work to leave behind you. In the grand scheme of things, it’s perhaps not the most important topic, but I find importance to be a fairly relative thing.

I feel the need to justify talking about publishing decisions at the minute, given the current state of the world, but I’m not sure how logical that is. What I can say is that it matters to me, personally, and I’ve found the current global situation has given me a little perspective.

Previously, I’ve spoken about my thoughts and feelings about mortality, and I’ve written here ad nauseam about publishing and self-publishing and hopes and dreams. Now I find all these topics overlapping in my brain, mixed in with an unhealthy dose of anxiety.

My thoughts about wanting to see myself in print have gone on a journey from wanting to get really far really fast, to finding folly in being ill-prepared, to slowing things right down and waiting for the right time. And I’ve documented pretty much all of those thoughts as they evolved.

Well, now they’ve moved onto this new place where, on the one hand, I still want to be cautious and careful about making the right decisions but, on the other hand, am worried about what happens if I wait too long and I lose all my opportunities through indecision.

I guess what I’m looking for is a middle ground. I haven’t found it quite yet, but am writing this post as a means to help me do just that. Continue reading

What I Make As a Writer

Some people are oversensitive about money. Some people will be scandalised that I’m about to break taboo in talking about it.

Some people, in my humble opinion, need to get over themselves.

I mean, yes, this stuff matters to some extent (I wouldn’t be blogging about it otherwise) but, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not half as important as we make it out to be.

It was back in May that I promised to lift the lid on my personal income but, all of the above said, I’ve actually gotten a slight case of cold feet between then and now.

Please understand that, when I criticise people for focusing on things that maybe don’t matter so much, I’m including myself in that too.

In my first post I was all like, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna be radical and awesome, breaking down barriers and laying all my sh*t bare!’ And then, having calmed down and thought about it some more, worry started to set in that people would see how little money we’re actually talking about and write me off as barely a professional.

I asked myself if I should wait until I was earning more before sharing my figures. Then I remembered that I was entirely missing my own point. I’m not making this blog post to be impressive, I’m doing it because I genuinely believe more open and honest discourse is needed and that everyone would be better off for it.

So, without further ado, here’s me putting my money where my mouth is:

I started freelancing during tax year 2013/2014 – the best part of six years ago. I’d just quit a “normal” job from hell (it was a call centre. Enough said.) and didn’t really know what I was doing, but I was enthusiastic. Foolhardy.

I was also living rent-free with my parents, which is a depressing yet important piece of contextual information.

For the first eight months, I earned nothing. Not a single penny. I call this my ‘year zero.’ Continue reading

What Literary Agents Do For Authors

This post comes directly from my notes of the recent publishing conference I attended in Dublin. For more general info and advice from that event and another one I attended in Belfast, please click here

If you’re new to the world of writing and have heard people talk about trying to get an agent, you might well be wondering what these mystical creatures are and what they do. Well, wonder no longer, because I’m about to spell it out. And – spoiler! – it’s more than just taking a cut of authors’ earnings.

Agents are…

1 – Advocates

On the most basic level, an agent is a third party who can enhance (or engineer) an interaction between two other parties. In the literary world, they are the middle man (usually a woman, in fact) who brokers a deal between writers and publishers.

Can’t writers submit to publishers directly, though? Some of them, yes, but the ‘big five’ publishers (and their imprints, who make up most of the market) usually only take submissions sent via agencies.

2 – Buffers

Imagine the scene: you’ve managed to get a publishing deal all on your own, but something has gone wrong. Perhaps the publisher has chosen the most hideous cover. You’re upset and you have no idea how to communicate this to your publisher. You worry they won’t take your criticism well, or that they’ll change their mind, so you’re left with the choice of accepting a cover you hate or risk rocking the boat by being seen as difficult.

Well, with an agent, you don’t need to worry. They will have this conversation for you.

3 – Knowledgeable

These points are in no particular order but if I was to rank them, this would probably be first.

Publishing deals are complicated beasts involving the sale of rights in a number of regions and formats: paperback, ebook, and audio as well as film, TV, and stage. Got an agent? You don’t need to stress over the fine print of any of it! They know all about shifts in the market and changes to the going rate. Nine times out of ten, they will get you a better deal than you could on your own. Continue reading

On Lack of Success, Taboo, & Transparency

This post has been brewing for a while and, in that time, some other people have touched on similar points. Linked here you will find a post by Kelly McCaughrain (which references a thread by Claire Hennessy) which talks about rejection.

Rejection is something everyone faces, but ‘creatives’ most of all. The more art you make, the more you put yourself out there, and the more you’ll experience the full spectrum of reactions, from awe to apathy to the aforementioned rejection.

Statistically speaking, the apathy and rejections will far outway acceptance and adoration. As Kelly and Claire point out, that goes for published writers just as much as those who have never been in print. It’s something you will need to make your peace with if you’re to carry on submitting.

We all have wobbles – days where we doubt ourselves and our work – but, personally, I’ve made my peace best I can. To do this, I have two things in my arsenal: regular pep talks and a philosophy:

Lack of success does not necessarily equal failure.

What I mean by this, is that for every publication and showcase and competition and whatever else, there are a finite number of winners. There are also, almost always, an infinite number of entries.

It is literally impossible for everyone to be accepted and, therefore, when your piece inevitably isn’t accepted, it means just that: it hasn’t been accepted. What it does not mean is that you and your work have been actively rejected.

Yes, that’s a semantic difference, but it makes sense to me and – most importantly – it keeps me sane.

When I don’t win the thing I’ve entered, don’t get shortlisted, or even longlisted, I am sad. Of course I am. But I know deep down it’s not the end of the world. I really recommend forging a similar attitude and/or coping mechanism for yourself, if you can. (Yes, it’s one of those horrible ‘easier said than done’ things.)

I also have a slightly more daring suggestion: be honest when you’re struggling. Talk about your lack of success. Insecurities thrive in the dark, so drag them into public kicking and screaming. We’d probably all be better for it. Continue reading

Thoughts on #OwnVoices

I am a bi/pansexual person with non-visible disabilities. Five years ago, I hadn’t come to accept either of those things about myself. In the first case, I was repressed, and in the second I was ignorant.

Ten years ago, not only was I not the feminist I am now, I was very vocal against certain rights for women. (Yes, I hated myself. It’s a potted history.)

Do you know what helped? For the most part, educational Tumblr posts.

Seriously. From the more liberal parts of the internet I not only learned some pretty key things about myself, but also a level of self-acceptance I had never experienced before.

As I hope these points illustrate, talking about issues outside of the ‘norm’ helps real-life people in real ways. Whether it regards race, sexual orientation, disability, disfigurement, or anything else.

Perhaps ‘issues outside the norm’ isn’t the best way to word that, but I can’t think of a better alternative.* Part of the problem regarding said issues is that the terms have become politicised. People don’t always have the right words. Other people get offended. It becomes a bit of a shitshow and the main points get lost.

A prime example of this has been the recent Twitter drama regarding the ‘Own Voices’ movement. Continue reading

On Deleting the Internet

If you’ve been on social media the past day or so, you may well have seen people complaining about changes to a platform called Tumblr. I, myself, was a site user and I myself have been tweeting about it.

Before I get into my thoughts (and feelings) about what’s going on, though, I should probably explain what Tumblr is and what actually is going on with it. So. Tumblr is a social network alongside all the others — Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc..

As a site, it was very visual but was not just limited to photo sharing (as Instagram is). Tumblr has its own culture. It’s own inside jokes. And until yesterday, when they announced some pretty big changes to how they operate, they had a big, thriving community.

Now people are leaving in a mass exodus, myself included.

The changes sound mostly reasonable on the surface. They claim to be about making the site safer, which I’m all for, if that’s what the new policy actually achieved.

I could go into detail about the policy and the reasons for it, but there’s already a hundred news articles out there, stating the nitty-gritty of it; alongside thousands of posts by past and present users giving nuanced reasoning for how the changes will make things worse, not better. What I want to talk about instead is what the site meant to me, personally, and what implications deleting it has had on my life.  Continue reading

10 Writers I Look Up To

It seems to me that, in most cases, the people we admire and aim to emulate often have no idea how well they’re thought of. Particularly, I think it’s true of women. We often don’t know our worth, and how would we when no one really talks about their inspirations?

I’m here to change that. Because I know that, on the occasions people have given me encouragement and/or praise, it makes a world of difference. It matters because those people you think are so great have just as much imposter syndrome as the rest of us. Sometimes more, if they’re successful.

It can be easy to think that there’s no need to tell someone with awards coming out their ears how their work impacted you – because surely they should already know, and doesn’t it go without saying?

Dear reader, say it. Always tell your heroes how you feel, just in case they’re not feeling so heroic.

I’ve been thinking some more about the specific people I really respect in terms of writing. This is in addition to Colin Dardis and Anna Sheehan, who I have previously recommended on this blog, and in a similar vein to a post I wrote for ‘Women Writers, Women’s Books’ a long time ago.

My list is as follows:

Jen Campbell

I found Jen through her YouTube channel and have been falling in love with her words ever since as she continues to bring out wonderful book after wonderful book – short stories, bookish non-fiction, poetry, and children’s books.

Malorie Blackman

When I started to read as an adult, Malorie’s books were the first I picked up. No matter than most of her writing is targetted at under eighteens. I actually have a picture book by her that I tresure.

Claire Savage

Claire impresses me on multiple fronts as she turns her hand to poetry, copywriting, journalism, and books for children and is fantastic at all of them.

Continue reading

On being “Very Young”

The evening before this year’s John Hewitt International Summer School kicked off, I was sat on a bench out the back of the Charlemont Arms hotel alongside some of my fellow bursary students, sipping a pint of Diet Coke while others had a smoke. The group of us had only just met and were getting to know each other ahead of the crazy week-long adventure we were about to have.

“You’re very young,” I was told by one of them, with a tone somewhere between surprise and confusion.

“Okay,” I replied, because I had no idea how else to respond. I found it kind of amusing, I suppose, that this was someone’s initial reaction to me.

When the week started in earnest, though, I heard the comment again. And again.

“Everyone keeps telling me I’m really young!”

“Well, you are.”

This got me thinking, because I was certainly not the youngest person there and I’m not particularly babyfaced. I am, in fact, almost thirty.

In reply to my initial post about JHISS in which I said I was intimidated by the heavy schedule, someone said, “If you feel intimidated, imagine how I must feel!’

What I conclude, taking those bits of context into consideration alongside the “very young” comments, is that people don’t think I’m young in per se. If you’re one of the people who made these comments, you can correct me on this, but what I think is happening is that I – somehow – have given the impression that I’m accomplished, or established, or vaguely know what I’m doing, or… something. The surprise seems to come from the fact that I have achieved this mystical level of influence/achievement at my age whereas for most people it comes much later if even at all.

Just typing that out makes me feel uncomfortable; like I’m bragging or something, but I don’t know how else to figure it. I certainly don’t feel impressive for my age. In fact, I panic fairly frequently that I haven’t done enough and should be doing more – should be being more.

On these expectations, I have also been musing.  Continue reading