I can’t say enough good things about Judy Blume’s MasterClass. She was insightful, entertaining and passionate about teaching the craft of writing.
Judy has sold 85 million copies of classic children’s books like Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Superfudge. Her accomplishments and eagerness to share her knowledge has earned her spot alongside other “masters” teaching a MasterClass like Ron Howard, Serena Williams, Gordon Ramsay and others. Frankly, the hardest part of taking a MasterClass is choosing which one to watch. You can see all of the classes for yourself here.
Blume’s class opens with a broad picture of the writing process, but it moves into more practical lessons and plenty of stories that support the lessons. You can tell how much she cares about her writing and her books, which cover more than 50 years.
Judy gets swept up in emotion as she shares several of her stories. During other stories, she tells them with such energy, you can’t help but get energized too. It’s like having the sweetest and most motivational teacher you can imagine.
There are too many lessons to share here, and Judy’s stories are worth the price alone. But here are 33 of the lessons I learned from Judy Blume’s MasterClass:
- Take notes wherever you go. Carry a notebook. Talk notes into your phone. Be in a state of heightened awareness. Judy says she once overheard a teenager having an argument and used it in It’s Not the End of the World. Ideas can come at any time. The idea for Superfudge came to her in the shower.
- Don’t be afraid to delete. If something doesn’t advance your story or illuminate it, delete it. Your writing only belongs if it advances your story. It’s okay and even encouraged by Judy to include everything in your book at the start. But take out what doesn’t belong when you edit.
- Don’t ignore difficult subject matter. Write about divorce, sexuality, death, puberty, etc. if you can turn it into an interesting story.
- Take home books from library. Beverly Cleary inspired Judy. Keep reading, that’s how good writers are made.
- Research is great. But if your research doesn’t move the story, you need to leave it out.
- Characters make the story work. Have fun with characters. But even in serious books, make room for humor. She also suggests making your characters outsiders.
- Don’t say what your character feels. Let emotions come out in actions.Allow the height of emotion and the ordinary of daily life into your story.
- Write a letter to reveal character. Writing letters can reveal more than you would ordinarily say.
- Only use dialogue that advances the story and characters. Dialogue can’t exist simply for fun. Also, writing full, uninterrupted sentences, is writing bad dialogue. Keep your word choice simple.
- Stick to said. Simple is better. Judy sticks to he said or she said when describing who is talking. She said descriptive phrases liked he quipped or she yelled are unnecessary and can be distracting.
- Be wary of slang. What’s cool now might sound very dated in the near future. An exception is if you’re writing a book set long ago.
- Dialogue makes reading more pleasurable, even if only from a visual perspective. Dialogue lightens up a book and makes it feel less dense.
- Start when something different happens in a character’s life. You can’t think of a story as a book. It’s too intimidating. Think one scene at a time or one conversation at a time.
- Surprises are everything. Welcome them. It’s good for your characters to surprise you.
- Establish character before major plot twists. Readers need to care about characters first and be invested in them.
- Use flashbacks to illuminate a character. Write the backstory whether you will use it or not because it helps you get to know your characters better.
- Setting can be as important as a character. Treat it as such.
- The way to write a good ending is different for everyone. Judy wants her endings to feel as though the main character got through an obstacle and has the ability to do it again. She likes to be optimistic.
- To get published, you need an agent. Judy’s first books were published without an agent. They were picked up from the slush pile. But as far as she knows, that doesn’t happen anymore.
- You must write an incredible one-page query to get an agent. Let them know who you are and about your voice. Knock them out. Like everything else, take your time with your query letter. Get names right. Tell prospective agents about yourself and what you’re writing. If an agent is interested, they’ll want to see your work, perhaps your whole book.
- Learn who is representing the books you like. Check the acknowledgements section of books or an author’s website to find out who is representing them.
- Make sure your book is as good as possible when you send it to an agent. Put your book away for a few weeks if you are losing momentum. Read it out loud. When Judy went to record the audio for Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, she was making changes as she read it aloud because she heard ways to improve it. She was distraught she couldn’t make changes for the audiobook when they told her she has to read it as it is. Listen for flow. Is it smooth, clean, fun to read? Is something too long? Does it ever get bogged down?
- Editors want to discover a new voice. They aren’t looking for what’s trending. They really want to find an author who is original and fresh.
- Find encouraging feedback. Allow yourself to feel good about your work.
- When writing your first draft, just write something so you won’t be facing a blank screen anymore. Don’t worry about how good it is yet.
- Judy doesn’t know anybody who doesn’t struggle in the murky middle of a book. It’s probably the hardest part to write. The beginning is fun. The ending is exciting. Judy needs the security of her notebook to get her through the middle. Some people feel more secure with outlines.
- The second draft isn’t about trying to solve problems of plot. It’s about trying to draw out characters.
- Writing is a job. You have to treat it so. It’s hard. You must be diligent.
- Judy doesn’t believe in writer’s block. There are good days, not as good days and days when the words aren’t coming. She advises writers to get up and get away if they are struggling to write. The physical helps the mental come to where you need to be.
- Follow the advice of your editor. But be careful not to completely destroy your work because your work is what got their attention in the first place.
- Use rejection letters as motivation. Remember how far you’ve come.
- Don’t give up. Judy’s best advice is don’t give up. Don’t listen to people who say you can’t write. They don’t know what’s inside you.
- Judy’s final advice: “No one can have too much imagination—let alone a writer.”
You can go here to find Judy’s MasterClass. Other authors teaching a MasterClass include Neil Gaiman, R.L. Stine, James Patterson, Dan Brown and Malcolm Gladwell. You can also search the many other MasterClasses here.
**I did not get paid to write this post, but I am an affiliate for MasterClass.