Masterclass is an online learning platform that you have probably seen plastered all over YouTube in adverts showing off some famous person with almost cinematic editing. Masterclass has a focus on more creative, practical skills than scientific, you can learn cooking from the likes of Gordon Ramsey, acting from Helen Mirren or even basketball from Stephen Curry! These classes are delivered in fairly short (typically 7-10 minute) long videos that focus on a certain topic. In theory, these are a very good way of delivering information. Not only do they make for good ‘bingable’ content, it means the teachers have to prioritise what they say, reducing the likelihood of having to listen to someone ramble about minute details. There is also a comment section of sorts where you can converse with other learners about the video you’ve just watched, providing extra insight and even feedback if you’re feeling particularly brave. Seeing all of this, topped off with the famous figureheads who serve as a comforting sort of authority, and you begin to see how this may come across as attractive to eager learners. It certainly appealed to me, when one day, an advert for Margaret Atwood’s class come onto my YouTube adverts. Blinking out of the stupor that I like to settle into while watching YouTube, I watched this well edited and genteelly funny advert, and was sold. So, is the course as good as promised in the advert? Let’s find out!
When I first clicked onto Margaret Atwood’s masterclass, I had to admit I felt slightly intimidated. After all, this was Margaret Atwood, a world-famous author, was I even advanced enough in my craft to be watching her talk? These fears were very quickly calmed with the introduction video. Atwood was casual, despite the high production value, it felt like I was visiting a famous aunt who was just having a conversation with me about the craft of writing. This course will appeal to anyone, from those who have yet to pick up a pen with the intention of writing, to those who have already spent far too long trying to scratch out words that sound good enough together to form a story. They’re accessible to all skill levels, and the relaxed atmosphere means that there is not too much pressure or over-the-top pretentiousness that can sometimes compose such courses. It was unexpectedly casual, no overuse of foreign sounding writing techniques, or laboured metaphors, it just felt like an enjoyable conversation that was full of understandable ways to work on and improve your writing. This was one of the biggest advantages of the course, and it ensured the course was enjoyable, and informative, a difficult balance to strike.
The course content itself was also very precisely chosen and interesting. Atwood focused on many important aspects of writing, not just the methods used in the actual prose, but also the process itself, such as getting started and dealing with writer’s block. She gave very practical advice for these issues that I intend to follow when I next encounter these problems, it was one of the most valuable aspects of the course, as it can apply to any author. Writer’s block is something we all face, after all. Another feature I particularly enjoyed as a fan of her writing was the use of pieces of her text as examples. It’s all well and good saying to use symbolism consciously in your work, but by showing these instances in her own work, Atwood shows these intangible parts of writing are quite attainable and illustrates how to identify them in other’s work. Atwood has a very good way of visualising quite complex methods/ideas, whether that be through using a universally known tale, Little Red Riding Hood or a legion of stationary. This visual way of learning was an excellent way of solidifying concepts that are otherwise quite hard to see, and made ideas such as narrative perspective much more memorable. However, although the course content was generally comprehensible and conveyed well, I just wish that there could’ve been a sweeping look at various aspects of writing different stories. Atwood largely remains within the realms of fiction that she writes, namely thrillers and dramas with somewhat of a basis in reality. This makes sense and leads to some very solid advice as these are areas she is strong in, but it could’ve been very useful to see her take on more chaotic genres such as Fantasy or on creating worlds for genres such as Science-Fiction which she does actually have experience in, so it was slightly confusing to see it left out.
Overall, this course managed to strike a pleasant balance between being well-structured and entertaining. The price is slightly hair-raising, costing over £70 for just one course. But if you’re feeling adventurous, this course offers some high-quality advice in easily digestible episodes, perfect for authors of all abilities!