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Writing Life

Review: Judy Blume’s MasterClass

After completing the Margaret Atwood MasterClass, I was excited to begin another of their writing courses. The Judy Blume class was an obvious pick, as I fell in love with Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret as a child.

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.

My first piece of advice to those who are considering a MasterClass.com All Access Pass is to try not to compare the courses. Though other reviews have written about the formulaic nature of the classes, you will be much happier if you take each one on its own merit. In my previous review, for example, I praised the documentary quality of Atwood’s class. While Blume’s class is certainly well-made, it does not have some of the fancy transitions or atmospheric qualities that Atwood’s does.

Another area where the Blume class differs from the Atwood class is the accompanying workbook. Where Atwood’s workbook feels much like a college syllabus, Blume’s seems a bit more simplistic. This isn’t necessarily bad. The exercises are basic but helpful, and are certainly a way to dig deeper into Blume’s work. The workbook includes a letter from Blume at the beginning which makes up for any shortcomings. Her encouragement, support, and friendly encouragement to “read, read, read” are touching. Some writers, though, may wish for a more varied reading list or more challenging assignments.

Blume discusses her process in detail, and fans of her work will enjoy the inside look into the development of her books. One of the main topics of conversation is her notebook– she keeps a new one for each book. Though the class could benefit from more peeks into these notebooks, Blume’s discussion of how she uses them is fascinating and educational. I did find myself wishing for more technical details about writing, as much of her advice feels specific to her own work or style.

Blume also discusses creativity, censorship, and the struggles she faced writing about sensitive topics openly in books for young readers. Her tone is no-nonsense but cheery, and is inspirational for any writer facing fear about the reception of their own work.


Course-takers will likely find themselves more interested in one half of the class or the other. The writing advice is more geared toward beginners, whereas the later lessons apply more toward those with at least a bit more experience. My favorite lessons of the class came near the end when Blume discusses working with editors, querying agents, facing rejection, and the book marketplace. When so much writing advice is focused on just getting words on paper, it is refreshing and encouraging to hear from such a master about these post-first draft topics.

A lesson on Blume’s own career journey is also fascinating. She shares her early forays into creating felt children’s decor and the idea that creative people often just need some kind of creative outlet. As a mom to young children, I was inspired by Blume’s ability to jump start her writing career as a young mother.

The Judy Blume MasterClass is a worthy investment for fans of Blume’s work, and particularly those who aspire to write for young people. All writers can benefit from witnessing her bravery and determination. If you are looking for an intermediate or advanced craft course, this is probably not the MasterClass for you. If you are looking for a feel-good experience that leaves you feeling ready to go for your writing goals and face any challenges to it head on, you’ll enjoy Blume’s class.


Particularly touching is the emotion Blume displays when talking about her own career and characters. Blume’s gratitude and love for those who shaped her career, for the stories that flow through her, and for her readers are palpable. I found myself moved to tears by her closing, in which she discusses her own bookshop and promises to show love to the books of the writers taking the class.

Take this class ready to think deeply about young people and the kinds of books they deserve, and to feel inspired to follow your own creative dreams.

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Writing Life

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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