10 Mind-Blowing Lessons From a Writing Masterclass

Asmita Karanje

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Of late, I lost my mojo towards writing. Although I have a list of over 100 titles that I can write about, I didn’t have the zeal or motivation to write it.

I was also perhaps a little disappointed with my writing habits.

And with the lockdown in place, I had more time than ever but I was also way less productive than ever. So I thought now is probably the perfect time to learn about writing.

I did my research and took this Masterclass by Roxane Gay — she is a prolific writer and essayist with the New York Times. She is also the editor for Gay Mag on Medium.

Ten things I learnt from the Masterclass by Roxanne Gay

#1 Look inward and outward

Find ways to reach a reader. Have a conversation with your reader rather than it being a monologue.

Looking inward is to provide personal anecdotes and examples from your life that helps the reader to connect with you.

Looking outward is to substantiate your story then using context from the real world.

#2 Ethos, Logos and Pathos

These are the three modes of persuasion in rhetoric writing. Effective use of these helps in writing a compelling story. Those in the writing profession might be familiar with this but for those who don’t know what it means, here it is.

Ethos is making an honest and ethical statement through your writing that appeals to your readers

Logos is using logic — facts, citations, theories and events to prove your argument

Pathos is about writing that appeals to the emotions and senses of your audience

Balancing the ethos, logos and pathos will go a long way in building an incredible relationship with your readers.

#3 Emotional Tone

It is essential to understand the emotional tone of your writing. When you are angry about a specific socio-political issue, share your anger and specify why you should be furious about that particular topic.

Similarly, humour and sarcasm have great potential to connect with the readers, but it is a difficult genre to write.

On the other handwriting, a joyful essay is more natural and has tremendous emotional appeal — people want to read inspiring and motivational stories all the time

#4 Be honest

“Never be a hero or a victim in your own work.” — Roxanne Gay

Be extremely careful when writing about people in your life — Be fair to them. I have done wrong and been wronged; people have done wrong and been wronged by me. So I understand that nuance, and I will not use my writing as a medium for communicating with people in my life.

#5 Fact-check

It goes without saying for any writing that’s heavy on research, science or technology to be factually accurate. But it’s also applicable for your personal essays. Truth can be subjective. Consult your diary and emails to recollect all facts from your previous life. Interrogate yourself and family to understand perspectives and provide a holistic view to your readers.

#6 Don't exploit trauma and tragedy

Define boundaries between what you can and cannot share. She says, “One of the mistakes that new writers make is they cannibalize themselves to make a name.” They exploit their suffering to get ahead, but it isn’t necessary. Being vulnerable is a choice. Make a wise decision that you wouldn’t regret later.

#7 Research

Although I am a big proponent of doing thorough research, I never realized the mistakes surrounding the research I made in my writing until I heard this.

While it is vital to study the topic, it is also essential as a writer to not include everything from that research. Think of what to include and what not to. Your research needs to inform your writing. Your writing, however, doesn’t need to include the research.

Maintain a separate working document to take note of all the crucial aspects of that topic — landmark events, news eds, opinion pieces and theories. Roxanne researches for 4–5 hours to come up with a 750-word article. Your research is a crucial input to your writing. It will show in your writing; it doesn’t have to be evident through quotes, citations and links.

#8 Create the basic structure of an essay

The beginning and the end of the article, although crucial, is highly overrated. The body of the article is equally important to keep the reader hooked. That’s the core of your story. There are various ways to structure an essay; one of them is to use a scene or a narrative frame to grasp the attention of the reader quickly. Use the same scene to begin and end your essay. Another strategy is to vomit on a page and then select just the crucial messages to create a structure of the article.

#9 Edit twice

While revision is an essential part of any writing, it should not be overdone. Overthinking can be dangerous to writing. You’ll fall into a conundrum of self-doubt and anxiety. Instead hit Publish. Here are a few things that can help in editing an article.

  1. Read it out loud
  2. Interrogate your work
  3. Stop after 1–2 rounds of revision

#10 Publish

There are various publications (paid and free) that accept submissions from all big and small writers. Pitch to these publications. You may fail a million times but rise back up each time. Rejection is an integral part of a writer’s life. Before you learn what works, learn what doesn’t. Fall a million times to build a sustainable and robust process. Some of the publications that you can submit your work to —

  1. Duotrope
  2. Newpages
  3. Poets & Writers

(Got no affiliation to any of these — just some useful resources that I made note of)

Conclusion

Writing a personal essay is an art mastered over the years. It is not getting it right 100% but understanding aspects of writing early on helps in honing that skill.

All of the above lessons have helped me to understand my writing pitfalls. Hope you benefitted from it as well.

Lastly, there is no dearth to learning resources — there is more than one can ever browse through in one lifetime. And, there is no substitute to practice writing.

Draw a fine balance between the two.

Learn from the experts — who have been in the same shoes as us when they started. Apply those learnings and reflect on your writing over time to see how you have progressed.

Here’s to all the budding writers like me! Cheers!

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Thinker, self-experimenter, and a newbie writer. I write about personal growth, socio-political issues, and career advice.

Dallas, TX
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