What I Learned About Writing From A Masterclass In Business
When I received a Masterclass subscription as a gift, I naturally gravitated towards the classes offered by well-known writers like David Sedaris, Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood and Joyce Carol Oates. They all had their unique personalities and useful insights. Like a diligent student, I took notes, but soon realised that while it was all good, most of it didn’t really make an impression on me.
Until I came across a Masterclass in a different genre — Robin Roberts’ class on Effective and Authentic Communication. Everything she said immediately made sense to me as a memoir writer, even though she was not teaching writing!
I watched the trailer for her Masterclass and was immediately attracted to her storytelling style. Although her class was listed under ‘business’, I found twelve inspiring lessons that I could immediately implement.
1. Make your mess your message — Discover your message
Life certainly is messy. In Robin Roberts’ memoir — Everybody’s Got Something, she shares her mother’s philosophy that everybody has something going on and there is value in studying your life to find the message buried in what seems like a pile of debris.
2. Amazing things happen when you let passion be your purpose
Robin’s father’s ambition was to be a pilot, a dream that he fulfilled by his distinguished career as a pilot for the Tuskegee Airmen.
Applying the philosophy that everybody goes through life, but not everybody wants to write their story, it helped me understand how the desire to tell my story and my passion for writing could be fused towards a greater goal. Who knows what awaits?
3. Being optimistic is like a muscle that gets stronger with use — makes it easier when the tough times arrive
Any creative endeavor has its share of ups (few) and downs (many). Looking for the good in life helps maintain a positive outlook. Being optimistic is also a choice, one that helps a writer weather the storms that arrive, particularly when you are telling your own story.
4. Know your intentions
Robin asks — What are you afraid of? Speak from the heart.
As a non-celebrity memoir writer, I was aware that writing my story had to have a greater purpose than merely be a self-serving enterprise. What did I hope to achieve by writing about a painful part of my life? The answer was very clear — I wanted to spread one simple message — You are not alone. Having this clarity helped me get to the heart of what I wrote each day.
5. By being vulnerable, you are showing strength
Writing about your mistakes, missteps, and misunderstandings does not make you feel good about yourself. It is so much easier to paint yourself in hero mode, wearing a cape and equipped with superpowers, ready to fix the world instead of exposing your insecurities, warts and all. But being vulnerable was where the power lay. Robin’s struggles and self-doubts made her very real and relatable as a person, beyond her obvious star power.
6. Start with a genuine interest in people
Robin’s strength is her earnest approach to her work. A shining vibe of niceness was embedded in every session of her Masterclass. Clearly, the camera loved her, but she also loved it back. Instead of feeling she was recording for an inanimate object, each sentence felt like it was directed to me, and me alone. That’s the kind of vibe I wanted my writing to have. I’m not there yet, but at least I know what I’m aiming for.
7. Go back to the basics — be sincere and do it for the right reasons
What was the true purpose of getting my story out there? Fame? Sympathy? Empathy? Each time I veered off course, something that I could sense by noticing how I lacked energy while writing, I had to remind myself often about my reasons for wanting to get my story out. Going back to the basic reason for why I was doing this served as a touchstone to bring myself back to the tack of writing what truly mattered.
8. Use your uniqueness to your advantage
Instead of feeling like a freak because of all the points of differences between my life and those of my readers, Robin reminded me to flip the perspective and see how I could use my uniqueness to find a previously undiscovered niche.
9. It’s your decision to share your story
Being the lead in your life story can be scary, there’s no doubt about it. And surely, there’s no pressure to do it. While there are many reasons to not move out of your comfort zone, it is the best way to grow — as a person AND as a writer.
10. Getting there is the fun
On the day that Good Morning America becomes the #1 morning show, Robin is handed the diagnosis that gives her 1–2 years to live in case she doesn’t get a successful bone marrow transplant.
The cruel timing of the stunning news reminds us that while we may pursue the larger goal of fame and fortune, the journey is the fun part. You never know what awaits you when you get there. If writing is not fun or fulfilling in the process of doing it, think again.
11. Everybody’s got something — don’t compare your despair
Whether the story is of a grand scale, relates to a famous celebrity, or describes a huge misfortune, it is the lesson that matters more. There is no need to compare two stories but to read into each one and see what is the message embedded in it.
For Robin, it was two life-threatening illnesses, but for others, it could be divorce or death or other hardship. As she quotes, “life provides losses and heartbreak for all of us — but the greatest tragedy is to have the experience and miss the meaning.”
12. Nothing replaces human connection — make authentic connections
The final message that helped all the others take root was Robin’s conviction that the point of communication is to make an authentic connection with the other person. Her message shines clearly in the way she talks, to every single person watching the same recorded footage.
While reading or editing what you write, I tried to keep evaluating whether I was moving towards my key goal — are my words making a genuine connection?
I went on to read her memoir- Everybody’s Got Something, which pretty much expanded on many of the points she mentioned in her Masterclass. Read it to feel the impact of authentic communication and storytelling.
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