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Review: Margaret Atwood’s Master Class

When Masterclass.com offered me an all-access pass, I was thrilled! I’d had my eye on the Margaret Atwood Teaches Creative Writing course for a while and was so excited to take it! Atwood is a legend, and especially as a woman novelist, a role model.

I was not disappointeded– her Master Class is an amazing opportunity to glimpse her creative process and hone your craft.

This being my first Master Class, the first thing I noticed as I began the first of the 23 video lessons was the production quality. The videos are much like short documentaries and include music, photos from Atwood’s life, drawings, and visuals of her books as she speaks about them. These are no simple tutorials, but rather high quality mini films.

The next thing I noticed was Atwood’s laugh. Equal parts wise, mischievious, innocent, and reassuring, her thin lipped grin accentuates her cheeks in a way that makes it impossiblle not to smirk with her. It appears at the best moments throughout the course, when Atwood imparts wisdom that feels a bit conspiratorial. I loved it.

Things slowed down a bit then, and it took me a while to ease into the flow of the course. As I watched the first two lessons, the information felt basic, not unlike other writing courses I have taken before. I wondered if the course would just be several videos of generic writing advice and frankly, felt a little disappointed.

As she began lesson three, on story and plot, though, I realized that the issue was not the course but rather my expectations. Since finishing graduate school in 2011, I’ve approached learniing from a pragmatic standpoint. I want information, steps, and practical tips. Much of this Master Class, though, is more like my liberal arts background. Atwood discusses a technique and then suggests examples of literature, everything from her own work to classics to modern works, that you can read to get a sense of that technique.

I quickly realized that this was not a Ted Talk, meant to expose a quick secret to improve my writing, but rather a channel for deep study and contemplation, guided by, that’s right– a master. Once I understood this, I fell in love with the course– I hadn’t realized how much I had missed this kind of learning– the reading and discussing kind.

Further into the course, Atwood does get into those technical, more straightforward details, so those who really are just looking for that will be happy too.

The class workbook, with a chapter for each lesson, is a fantastic addition. The PDFs summarize the lesson and offer exercises and readings. The student discussion area is active and supportive, though at the time I took the course, it seemed Atwood had not yet responded to any questions submitted in the “Office Hours” section.

Really, I’d suggest taking this course at least twice– once to take it in, to get a feel for it, and then again more slowly, taking the time to do the assignments and the suggested readings, as if you were taking a college level course.

I finished the class a few days ago and already, after a chat with my editor this morning, I’ve thought, “Oh, I need to go back to the lesson on descriptive prose. And the one on switching points of view!” These are lessons you will return to again and again as a writer.

In her farewell video Atwood tells us, with one of her signature smiles, that she is nearing the end of her trajectory. She hopes her class is a way to collect and share the knowledge she has learned over her career. I am so grateful to get to learn from her.

 

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