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If you’re interested in improving your writing, it’s likely that you’ve spent some time trawling for the best advice from successful authors. That’s what the Judy Blume MasterClass (click here for a free 7 day trial) claims to offer. In fact, here’s exactly what it claims:
Judy Blume broke the rules. Her refreshingly honest children’s books were banned by hundreds of libraries – and loved by generations of readers, who bought 85 million copies of classics like Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and Superfudge. In her first online class, the award-winning author teaches you how to invent vivid characters, write realistic dialogue, and turn your experiences into stories people will treasure.
So does the MasterClass live up to the hype? Is it worth your money? Can it really improve your writing? Let’s find out.
What is MasterClass?
If you’re a complete stranger to MasterClass, check out James Patterson MasterClass Review: Is It Worth Your Money?, in which I reviewed the service’s first writing class. Otherwise, here are the basics.
MasterClass is a learning platform that provides exclusive lectures from famous experts on a wide variety of topics. Lectures, which are broken up into short classes usually between two and twenty minutes in length, can be purchased individually or unlocked via a yearly subscription service that covers all MasterClass lectures. Each class is supported by a workbook as well as interaction with the rest of the student body. Once classes are purchased, MasterClass promise that the attendant materials will always be available, meaning that you’re free to approach them at your own pace. It should be noted that MasterClass primarily offer lectures: there is interaction with speakers and with other class members based on the workbooks, but this varies a great deal, and the classes are not ‘passed’ in any academic sense.MasterClass lectures are unlikely to ever be available from another source.Click To Tweet
The Judy Blume MasterClass
As MasterClass claim, Judy Blume is an author of immense fame and success, and her lectures focus on both writing and writing for children (on which, more in a moment). Combined, Blume’s classes come in at just under five hours, supported by a forty-three-page workbook and theoretical direct access to Blume through ‘office hours’ (such videos are in response to a few students of the class but viewable by all members).
Over her series of lectures, Blume covers topics like finding ideas, writing for younger readers, creating memorable characters, writing dialogue, structuring plot, submitting work, succeeding in the literary marketplace, and facing controversy and censorship.
All that said, is it any good?
The potentially fatal flaw of MasterClass is that being good at something doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to teach others how to do it. Likewise, you may be poor at teaching while still thinking you’re doing a great job. The general nature of MasterClass lectures – an expert performing a monologue rather than being interviewed – means that they’re fairly idiosyncratic (though it’s to be expected that each expert is coached behind the scenes to some degree).
Because of this, there’s an inherent risk to each MasterClass; every instructor knows their business, but there’s no guarantee that they know how to teach it. This is something Blume addresses in the introduction of the course workbook.
When the MasterClass team first contacted me I said, Are you kidding? I can’t teach writing! But they encouraged me to give it a try, saying I probably knew more about writing than I thought I did. And they were right. Once I started talking it all came pouring out, and I mean all. Support and encouragement go a long way. And that’s what I hope I can offer to you in this class, along with sharing what I know and what I’ve learned in my 50 years of the writing life.
Of course, Blume’s own confidence is no guarantee. In my review of James Patterson’s MasterClass, one of the first wave of classes offered by the platform, I said that ‘the ideal form of Patterson’s lectures would have dug deeper into his process. As is, the MasterClass model seems capable of producing something that justifies its price tag, but Patterson’s lectures don’t quite make it.’
In contrast, Blume’s lectures seem to represent either the platform finding a more ideal form or else just having better luck with Blume as a teacher. Blume, like Patterson before her, is a charismatic teacher, but whether by luck or design, her lectures go deeper than Patterson’s.Judy Blume’s MasterClass lectures fulfill the promise of their model.Click To Tweet
One of the major improvements on the Patterson lectures is her deliberate, repeated use of her own work as a case study, not just to support individual points, but as lectures in their own right. While Blume clearly knows how to write, this is work she’s in a unique position to examine as a teaching aid, and in doing so she avoids the most serious deficit of Patterson’s MasterClass.
Blume is a charismatic, involved tutor – even tearing up at points – and deals well with the balance between direct, helpful advice and contextual descriptions of her own experiences. Some MasterClass lectures struggle with this balance; it’s fun to find out about a celebrity, but when you’ve paid for their time, anecdotes start to feel like an unsatisfactory replacement for more valuable content. There’s still some of this in Blume’s class, moments that purely address her unique career, but it’s a tolerable amount, perhaps mainly because her frequent use of case studies stops it from feeling entirely unjustified.
I mentioned earlier that Blume talks about writing for children, but she does so in such a way that the majority of authors will find value in her lectures. Some advice, like writing children as people and using complex teenagers in adult stories, is from her genre, but Blume manages to generalize the writing experience, and she’s constantly using her chosen genre and readership to make wider points. She’s also clearly done her homework, citing information that will be true for her students but which wasn’t true for her. This may seem minor, but it’s indicative of Blume’s approach to the whole class; she’s not just sharing her experiences but actively teaching.
You really can’t go out there today without an agent. It’s completely different than it was when I started. You know, my first three books were unagented books, because writers were still being discovered in the slush pile.
– Judy Blume, ‘Getting Ready to Submit’, MasterClass
Similarly, advice such as ‘don’t use all your research’ from her ‘Unlikely Event Case Study – Part 1’ class may be advice you can find elsewhere, but it’s also the advice any writing teacher should give. In this way, Blume’s lectures are a great course on writing in general, rather than just snippets of observation from a selective expert.
That’s not to say that there isn’t specific advice here for writing for younger readers. That’s absolutely the case, and I’ll say right now that, if this is your target market, Blume’s MasterClass is unquestionably worth your time.
Voice, I think, is equally important for younger readers and adult readers. Pace, I think, is essential in a book for young readers. ‘Boring’ is the biggest turn-off.
– Judy Blume, ‘Writing for Younger Readers’, MasterClass
While Blume’s use of case studies is beneficial, there are times when her approach colors her advice in a less helpful way. There are multiple occasions where Blume makes assertions that stem from her writing style but don’t speak to all authors. In a recent article, we tackled the absolutist writing myth that ‘character is everything’. It’s a piece of advice often offered by writers who have found it to be the case in their own work, but it doesn’t apply to everyone, and it can be unhelpful to authors working in a different style. It’s an issue, then, that Blume makes this assertion in a direct, sweeping way.
Any book is about the characters, more than the plot or anything else. It’s the characters that make the story work… So, character is everything. Without character, there’s nothing.
– Judy Blume, ‘Creating Memorable Characters – Part 1’, MasterClass
Likewise, Blume tends to ignore those areas that are absent from her own writing process. Clearly, this is a big ask, but if you’re someone who fundamentally writes in a different way to Judy Blume, you may encounter her lectures as sometimes presenting solutions that don’t suit your style and which glide over areas you’d like to have studied. Her aversion to discussing theme, for instance, is understandable (it’s something many writers don’t consciously address), but her assertion that it’s an area all authors can ignore threatens to direct some students away from an area that could have helped their writing.
‘Themes’: a word that makes me ill… I don’t know what my themes are, because I don’t think in terms of themes… Usually someone tells me. Like, I’ll read a review, or I’ll read a piece about my book, and it will say, ‘The theme of this book is…’ And I’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s what I was writing.’ … I stay away from thinking in terms of themes, and I think you can too.
– Judy Blume, ‘Writing for Younger Readers – Part 1’, MasterClass
Blume also spends considerable time on areas some writers may have no use for. One class, ‘Controversy and Censorship’, is incredibly interesting but unlikely to have practical application for the majority of students. There’s a high probability that this won’t be an issue for you, but if it’s the case enough times – interesting but not enlightening – you’ll find you’ve purchased a class on Judy Blume rather than one taught by her. As with many MasterClass lectures, there are also classes like ‘Career Journey’ and ‘Judy’s Childhood’ that are more personal, though again Blume does a good job of finding the relevance for the student.
Something else to keep in mind is that the class really is the central product. To say that the attendant workbook is forty-three pages long is to tell only the most literal truth – it’s a highly stylized document that utilizes a huge amount of blank space, and the content that’s there is mostly reviewing each lecture. Assignments are included, but since they’re not graded, there’s variation in quality. One reads ‘If you have children in your life, try to eavesdrop on them…’ Not bad advice in context, but not exactly adding value for money.Despite big name lecturers, MasterClass continue to scrimp on the supporting materials.Click To Tweet
Judy Blume’s MasterClass (click here for a free 7 day trial) is a well-delivered, insightful, and cohesive resource for authors. Blume’s informed and passionate delivery turns what could have been a speciality lecture for children’s authors into something with far broader application and appeal, and her use of her own work and experiences as case studies fulfills the promise of the MasterClass service in a way other lectures haven’t.
By diving deep into her own experiences, Blume manages to talk extensively about many different steps in the writing, editing, and publication of a book. The classes ‘Working with Editors’ and ‘Marketplace’ constitute advice on the actual process of publication that tends to get overlooked, while involved subjects like writing process, plot structure, and character creation tend to be broken down into multiple episodes. There are sections that stray into autobiography, but Blume does draw on these for wider context, and there’s enough focused, professional advice that the sense of time slipping away is minimized.Judy Blume’s use of her own books as case studies takes her lectures to the next level.Click To Tweet
That’s not to say that Blume’s MasterClass is perfect. There’s a definite focus on her own style of writing, sometimes built on the more harmful assumption that it’s a style that will suit all authors. If you’re someone whose approach to writing differs entirely from Blume’s, there are still things to learn, but you’ll often be on your own in navigating what’s a general truth and what’s a matter of taste.
One genuinely poor aspect of the course is the workbook. It should be said that, as supporting material for the lectures, it’s adequate, and will certainly be useful for those watching over a longer time period. At the same time, this is an area where it would be easy to add value to an expensive service by bolstering the spoken lectures with more extensive exercises. In presentation and design, MasterClass tend to give the impression of leaving you alone with a single expert. That works well in some areas, but the workbook feels like an area where a more experienced teacher, or even a team, could be crafting something that gives the course considerably more life after you’ve finished with the videos. On the back of what are assumedly large fees for its speakers (these are big names, after all), it feels like a great deal of expense is being spared on the supporting materials, and it also feels like MasterClass know it. I count five pictures of Judy Blume in the same place, wearing the same clothes, smiling at the camera in the workbook, and three of them are full-page.
Happily, the lectures stand on their own, and so long as your approach doesn’t explicitly clash with Blume’s, the price tag feels justified. If you’re still on the fence, I suggest checking out some of the copious online interviews with Judy Blume. This should help clarify her focus and attitude, which should in turn let you know if you’re going to have any problems with the MasterClass. As of writing, MasterClass are offering a week’s free trial, so go ahead and check out Blume’s style if you’re at all interested (just be sure that, if it’s not for you, you cancel the trial before it begins to charge).
If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a reason to buy, I’ll refer you to Blume’s coverage of the publishing process. Authors love talking about the joys of the writing process and how hard editing is, but publishing is less glamorous, and there’s genuine value in someone as successful as Blume telling writers what they can expect, especially as she’s gone outside her own prior experience to do so. All in all, Judy Blume’s MasterClass is a fantastic resource, and one that showcases the potential of the MasterClass model.
If MasterClass sounds like your type of thing but you don’t think Judy Blume would be a good fit, check out James Patterson MasterClass Review: Is It Worth Your Money?, and keep your eyes peeled for our future reviews of MasterClass’ growing roster. Or, if you’ve watched the Judy Blume MasterClass, please leave your feedback below for other authors.