Malcolm Gladwell’s MasterClass Review: Non-Fiction Writing

By Ali Hale

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Would you like to learn to write great non-fiction – perhaps long-form articles or even full-length books? Then Malcolm Gladwell’s MasterClass might be for you.

If you’ve read my previous MasterClass reviews about James Patterson’s class and Margaret Atwood’s class, you’ll already know how the MasterClass format works. If not, here’s a quick recap:

What’s MasterClass?

MasterClass is a large, growing brand with a website that offers classes from a lot of big names in the writing world – plus big names in all sorts of other areas. (As well as classes on writing by writers like James Patterson, Margaret Atwood, Macolm Gladwell, Neil Gaiman and R.L. Stein, there’s also a class on magic by Penn & Teller, a course on tennis by Serena Williams, and much more.) 

You can purchase individual courses for $90, if there’s a single course you want to take – but it’s definitely better value to buy an annual pass for $180, as this allows you to access as many courses as you want, for a year.

There’s a 30-day 100% money back guarantee, if you sign up for MasterClass and decide that it’s not for you. 

Malcolm Gladwell’s MasterClass

In my previous MasterClass reviews, I’ve looked at a couple of famous fiction authors teaching classes on their craft.

This time, I wanted to turn to a different area of writing: non-fiction. My copy of Malcolm Gladwell’s first book The Tipping Point is dog-eared and creased along the spine, because I’ve read it so many times: Gladwell has a very engaging writing style and the ability to tell a great (and true) story.

I’d describe what Gladwell writes, and what he teaches in this class, as “creative nonfiction” or “narrative nonfiction”. It doesn’t just focus on the content (like some non-fiction, e.g. a “how to” article, would). 

Instead, the style and the way the story is told matters too, and there’s a deeper meaning there. As Gladwell states in the introduction to the course, “You read it because you’re in search of something powerful and fundamental about what it means to be a better person.”

Overview

Like all MasterClass courses, this was really well put together, with high-definition videos and crisply clear audio. The web interface is easy and intuitive to use, whether you want to watch all the lessons in sequence or jump between them. 

The lessons vary in length, with most coming in at around 10 – 15 minutes (the longest is a little over 20 minutes). Gladwell covers a range of topics, from big picture issues like “working as a writer” to more specific techniques like using humour, controlling information, and describing the (real-life) characters who make up your story.

One interesting aspect of this class was that there’s a “Class Project”, described in the introuctory’s lesson’s .pdf: you’re tasked with writing a 7,000 to 8,000 word nonfiction article. The process is broken up for you in the individual assignments for each lesson, but once you get to the point of editing your assignment (in lesson 20), there’s no further guidance. 

What’s Great About the Course 

The lessons are coherent and structured. At the start of the class, Gladwell lays out what he’s going to cover – and it’s clear that he has thought through what he’s going to say. This wasn’t always the impression I’ve had with other MasterClass class (see my James Patterson review for more on that), so it was great to see here.

Gladwell gives detailed, concrete advice. For instance, in lesson 4 on “Controlling Information”, Gladwell explains how to cultivate surprise, and walks through the process of him giving the reader a puzzle and encouraging them to consider what they think, because he knows that the reader is likely to guess wrong – and then they’ll be surprised (and encouraged to read on) once they get the actual answer. 

You can sign up for this MasterClass here.

All the lesson .pdfs have a summary of key points from the lesson, with “Learn More” suggestions plus a short “Assignment” that you’re encouraged to share in the “Hub” (MasterClass’s community section).

The advice on drafting and redrafting (which is the longest lesson) is great. Gladwell encourages writers to set realistic expectionts for how much they can write, and encourages them to draft during the researching and interviewing process. I might quibble with his insistence that “you can’t write a lot in a day” – I think some writers do write fast, and it depends on your topic and approach – but he offers a lot of great advice about just getting the first draft down then taking a break before revising it.

Gladwell’s clear enthusiasm for his topic, and his ability to relate it to areas like philosophy (e.g. in his conclusion about the “theory of other minds” made this a very engaging class to take. He has a sense of humour and a nice friendly style in front of the camera. 

What’s Not So Great About the Course

As with the other MasterClass courses, there are no transcripts – though you can watch the videos on any device, as there’s a mobile app. This can be frustrating if you’d like to be able to skim some lessons, or check back over material you’ve already covered. (Of course, you can go back and watch the videos again.)

There are mini-assignments that you’re encouraged to share in the Hub, but there’s no feedback from either Gladwell himself or even the MasterClass team. There’s a big course assignment – to write a 7,000 to 8,000 word article – but again, there’s no avenue for feedback on this.

If you’re looking for an interactive course where you get actual feedback on your work, this may disappoint you. Other students may reply to posts in the Hub, but this can be a bit hit and miss now the course has been around for over a year, and you might well end up posting your assignments without getting any response at all – which could be disappointing.

Should You Give MasterClass a Try?

If you want to write narrative or creative nonfiction, then Malcolm Gladwell’s class is a great one to take. It’s well-structured, it offers lots of great advice, and it’s engaging and fun to watch.

As with MasterClass’s other courses, I did feel that the $90 price tag is fairly high, though this class is longer than others: the 24 lessons, taken together, last around 4 hrs 50 minutes. 

If you want to take more than two classes within a year, the $180 All-Access Pass is definitely the best value: just make sure you set aside the time to get the most out of it.

You can sign up for this MasterClass here.

Also, there’s a 30 day money-back guarantee, so if you’re unsure, you could give MasterClass a try and then ask for a refund if it turns out it’s not a good fit for you.

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