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How Neil Strauss’s Writing Masterclass Helped Me Finish My Book

We all paint incredible pictures of our idols. If we ever get a chance to meet them, they seem to always fail at living up to our mind’s expectations. The myth is often more impressive than the person.

But that’s not true for me. 

A year ago, I enrolled in my first-ever professional writing class. Sure, I took writing classes in college. I even took a few seminars on business writing and grammar during my career, but I never took a writing intensive class from a successful author.

In late 2020, I finished the second draft of my first novel. I still was unsure of the title and knew there was something off with the book. Another draft was finished, but the book wasn’t. Everything I learned from AuthorTube and hunted down from the internet wasn’t helping me complete the novel. It was missing something. I just didn’t know what.

A week later, I received a marketing email from one of my favorite authors.

Neil Strauss was hosting his first-ever Professional Writing Masterclass. I clicked the link to the website in his announcement email. The headline read, “Discover A Radical Approach That Will Transform Your Writing And Launch Your Dream Project By Working Directly With A 10x New York Times Bestselling Author.”

I enjoyed Neil’s books, and you know, him being a 10x New York Times best seller offers significant credibility, so I figured, fuck it. I enrolled in the class and put down a hundred dollars to hold my spot. A few days later one of Neil’s assistants called me. He asked why I was looking to enroll in Neil’s class, about my writing experience, and other general questions about my relationship to writing and what I was working on. I shared how close I was to finishing my novel, but I needed mentorship, and that’s why I wanted to learn from Neil.

I knew the conversation was a way to filter potential candidates while also highlighting the benefits of Neil’s class. I felt great during the chat, which meant I knew what was coming up next.

The cost of the Professional Writing Masterclass.

Neil assistant offered me two options: “A Writers Roundtable” which was a year-long writing class with Neil. This included weekly classes and access to Neil.  The other option was a weekend writing intensive called the “Professional Writing Masterclass.” Neil’s time wasn’t cheap. And rightfully so. Learning from a successful author is an investment. I knew the experience would be invaluable with a chance to pay off in a big way.

That’s when I remembered what my tattoo artist warned me about when choosing someone to permanently draw on my body for the first time. He said, “Good tattoos aren’t cheap and cheap tattoos are not necessarily good. A tattoo is a lifetime investment, so always remember to shop for quality before price. You pay for what you get.”

I felt like that applied here, too.

Being stuck in the middle of my book, right smack in the middle of a pandemic, led me to enroll in Neil’s Professional Writing Masterclass.

Neil had all his students do some exercises a few days before the class. The goal was to understand time management and prepare mentally for the writing intensive weekend.

Nearly fifty people attended the first class, which was well into the evening on the East Coast.

The weekend didn’t just focus on the technical aspects of writing, either. It was about brainstorming, focus, time management, learning the publishing business, creativity, giving feedback, and breaking through “writer’s block”, which Neil deems bullshit. And after he shows you how to beat it, you’ll see that writer’s block really is nothing but a myth. 

Every night during the three-day writing intensive, the class went over our allotted time. The learning went beyond the schedule, and Neil let the creativity unfold. He crammed so much into the writing weekend class that he didn’t have the time to discuss marketing with his students. Two months after the Professional Writing Masterclass, Neil held another virtual session to teach his students marketing.

Yet, the biggest lesson for me came on the final day of the writing weekend.

Neil began a closing meditation to end the class. 

Everyone closed their eyes.

Neil started guiding the writing meditation.

Everyone was in a semi-deep trance.

Breath in.

It was very serious.

Breath out.

Let the words flow.

The thoughts dissipate.

Everyone was in the moment, trying to end the class on a high note.

A high-pitched laugh from a child awoke most of us from the meditation.

In the background of Neil’s screen, Neil’s son came barging into the room, laughing in a way that only a child can.

Now, in his son’s defense, we were over the allotted class time.

Once again.

I closed my eyes and laughed. 

It was such an unexpected and beautiful moment. 

I couldn’t stop smiling. 

Even now.

A bunch of serious writers meditating on writing stuff.

Channeling our energy on the art.

And life happens.

The beautiful randomness.

It was perfect.

I’ve always been serious about my writing. Maybe anal. I can’t rule out being pompous either. Writing was the most serious of matters. Every word must be perfect. And elegant.

But in that moment of laughter during class, I realized I needed to stop taking the damn words so seriously. I needed to enjoy writing again. So, I did. 

And on December 21, 2021, exactly ten months after completing Neil’s Writing Masterclass, I published my first novel, Last Chance California.

Is it perfect? 

Not even close.

But writing a book was a dream I set for myself when I was just a little boy. Something I couldn’t have finished writing the book without the knowledge I gained from learning from Neil Strauss. I learned more about writing in those three days than I have in the last decade (and I make a living off my writing). The way Neil taught and spoke to his class felt like I was talking with someone that understood why the writing matters. Someone who appreciates the art, and not just writing as a means to a monetary end (which it also is, and Neil explained publishing and the business side of writing to his class).

My advice (which I stole from some of the best writers of our generation), is if you want to write a book, take a writing class. It’s the single most important investment you can make into your book. Find a quality class taught by a successful writer. If possible, find an interactive class, as the spur of the moment conversations and feedback from your teacher are invaluable. 

And if you want to learn from a 10x New York Times best-selling author, I’d recommend Neil Strauss. 

Neil Strauss during his first Professional Writing Masterclass. Sorry for the candid, Neil. The good news is that I’m a little surprised by the photo myself (see left corner).
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