5 Reasons to Refine Your Writing with Masterclass

How-to Articles

I’ve recommended online learning platforms before, but never with such vigor as I do with Masterclass. Although it may sound like a made-over TED Talk, it cpuld help you explore another side of writing or pull you through the trenches of a long, creative project. These lectures delivered by journeyed professionals could be the spark you need in your hackneyed writing routine or help you rediscover meaning in your work.

Among the better reasons to at least try it, it’s only 180 for an annual membership, half of what any single writing class would be, and will expose you to at least four different semesters of classes.

I am drawn to new journals and notebooks to the point of an obsessive and compulsive craving.

Journal Fetish

Essays, Philosophy/Insight

I compulsively crave and obsess over new journals and notebooks. In the bookstore, Walgreens, and paper goods store, I walk directly to the shelves of Moleskins, Paperblanks, Deuts187s and Piccadillys. A journal serves not just as a utility to write. Before the writing happens, a journal is loaded with meaning.

Writing in some journals may mean participating in a historical continuum. Paperblanks’ cover images are restored designs from millennia ago. The aesthetics are orderly, symmetrical, and intricate—­foreign to the modern reductionist journal with a white cover and a tiny but rebellious black square in the center. The Paperblanks images, ranging from equinoxes, silk work from France, the book of Solomon, to Paris Noir, imbues each journal with a sense of historical continuity and connection. By writing between the covers which bare images of the old, we restore them to the present. The journal which contains the first draft of this essay bares a cover with a symmetrical, silver filigree design from Germany in the 1800s. The description inside proudly declares: “Silver filigree was made with the intent to celebrate human’s inclination to the ornate, the symmetrical nature to beauty and the delicate system in which beauty participates.” No matter how desolate the modern era appears to others, we can always restore our universal appreciation of beauty and the ornate. A notebook can thus restore and connect us to something greater than what it is we’re writing in the present.

This journal features the door number of Sherlock Holmes. While I tend to stay away from movie or book related notebooks, this notebook is surely alluring, clever, and mysterious.
This journal features the door number of Sherlock Holmes. While I tend to stay away from movie or book related notebooks, this notebook is surely alluring, clever, and mysterious.

Black journals are the most alluring of them all. Black, though the most soulful color, is not understood as such or even considered a “real color.” In objective terms, it is the very essence of color; it is all color condensed into one point. Darkness does not signify the absence of light but the complete absorption of it, as when pupils dilate in the dark to collect as much light as possible. Blackness gathers, collects, and condenses as a black hole does, inhaling the galaxy it inhabits. When I look at a black journal, I see colorful tales and mysteries condensed in the cover. Opening the cover titillates me, and I am always shocked by the white void of the blank pages.

We can neglect notebooks with different colors. They are too heavily associated with ever-changing personalities and moods. Red hot anger, yellow sunniness, green envy, imaginary purple—these colors have their own sentiments. I could only ever justify a notebook cover with a plain, light blue color, one reminiscent of water.

Water reveals what’s underneath, letting light in and reflecting simultaneously. In this way, the water can be a source of reflection, tranquility, and wonder which makes it an astute metaphor for the work that journaling involves. Water is a form of writing, like Dumbledore’s liquid pensive in Harry Potter, used to sift through memories, reflect, and relax. In writing, we wade through narratives, emotional currents, and epiphanies made by diving deep. Sometimes the waters are pacified and stilled with the pen, and I see a clear reflection staring back at me. Other times, I see something close to the Loch Ness: a dark and mysterious figure that manages to escape before I can take a snapshot. There is a mystery lurking in my subconscious, just beyond reach, awaiting discovery in a dream.

There might be something ironic in water as a metaphor for writing, as writing is a way to solidify passing thoughts on a page. Yet our words, no matter how tangible, are never absolute. No claim can ever actually be permanently proved to exist, although it can be improved and advanced, torn down, and critiqued. Just as I can write my memories down, my memories will change. I will have changed, for better or for worse, and inevitably look back on a memory which could feel foreign to me. By journaling, I can attempt to capture my memories as they were at that specific point in time. Yet just like a black and white photo, writing a memory down is only capturing a fragment, a basic shell of what it was. This brings me to the inside of the notebook: the blank pages.

Despite myself, I looked at these blank journals before anything else in the bookstore. The other books have already fulfilled their creative potential. Their creators will never walk into the bookstore to squeeze in their last edits. All is said, done, in print and for purchase as is. The empty journals are begging a writer to walk into the bookstore, pets in a shelter desperately looking for love. More so than a living, breathing thing, they are tragically incomplete and absolute without a writer.

This is a reason why they are also intimidating to start. Unlike spoken language, writing is slower and presents the possibility of rewinding, replacing, improving our language in retrospect. What we write can be taken apart; ­­people can take a magnifying glass to it like a detective and interrogate each word. We have to back up and defend what we write due to its permanence in the objective world.

A blank page is the blank day we might have ahead of us on our schedules, lucky as that is. It is another stomach waiting to be fed. We must really listen to know when it’s hungry and what it craves. A blank page is the emptiness any creative person feels before starting the project. This emptiness will persist, and therefore the creativity will live on. This satisfies the “logic of the fit,” ­­the model of the universe which states that no being exists as a solitary unit, everything is completed by its complementary part. And so, the blank pages keep turning as long as we are brave.

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.

3 Surprising Sources of Inspiration for Your Writing

3 Surprising Sources of Inspiration for Your Writing

How-to Articles

Out of the many reasons to be a writer, there is still one that has not made the list:

“Being a writer is incredibly easy.”

It is never easy–particularly if you’re doing it right. Although, when asked how he came up with such creative ideas, Neil Gaiman may have put us to shame when he replied: “I make them up. Inside of my head.” But, inspiration can be the most challenging part. Maybe it’s just all the technology in the air, numbing us to real, human experiences, or we’re too critical of ourselves, too depressed, or maybe we just are some boring f***ing people.

I will not indulge you with a writing prompt (unless… you want one) because the problem lies with you. So, here are three surprising sources of inspiration for your writing so the creative cup may over-poureth.

1. Take an Online Course or Audit a Class

I used to think online education platforms like Rosetta Stone were dull and lame. But this was when I was 16 years old with no actual life experience. Now that I juggle clients, jobs, a residual social life, and some kind of scrappy sense of a “dream,” they are a god sent. I’ve taken a writing class to brush up on style guides on Coursera and watched a litany of Ted Talks that changed my life (about a hundred and one times over). These are great in a crunch. If you have time, try to audit a class at your local university.

The reason? They say that having an open attitude and an intellectual disposition is one of the key personality traits of creatives (Kaufman). If you’re experiencing a creative block in writing, try studying something other than writing — forensic psychology, history, a language — you know, like a topic that isn’t aware of itself. You will be surprised by the connections and flood of new material.

Besides, education cracks your brain open like an egg, whether you like it or not. The result? Sweet creative yolk.

2. Take a Long Walk and Keep a Log

Ever since I read The Philosophy of Walking, I’ve gotten very “meta” about my walks. It kind of made me realize none of my “great inspirations” came while I was sitting, staring, and trying to force their inception. Granted, there is the necessary “crunch” time–when you’re researching, drafting, etc.–but the nice, steady pace of a long walk seems to yield forth the labor’s benefits.

When we intentionally go “on a walk” for its own sake and not just to get somewhere, we shed our egos. We are maskless. We can stow away our mind’s habits, our shallow desires, and take a peek at what’s underneath. Usually, there is at least one gold nugget waiting for you.

Don’t let short-term memory get the better of you–take note of it before it goes down the gutter, ideally minutes after your stroll is complete.

3. Less is More? Not Really — More is More

A writer I met at a literary event passed along an invaluable rite of passage for a writer:

“I didn’t really learn to write until I gave myself permission to write badly.”

Part of this is writing in sheer volume. Imagine all of your mysterious, wonderful ideas are locked inside of a junkyard in your brain. Your inner critic, the voice that nags ans edits you, stands guard. You like to sit there, reason with the inner critic, tell them what “kind” of a good idea you’re looking for in the junkyard. You know, just start a conversation. What you really need to do?

Sucker punch your inner critic in the face. Open the gate to the junkyard like it’s a dam. Let all of the junk come out. Write pages and pages of useless garbage full of spelling and grammar errors, overused stereotypes and devices, egotistical indulgences, and the like. And you’ll notice that “BIG IDEA” will come out of the scraps. If you don’t believe me, remember that Maya Angelou wrote and published 165 poems. We only remember a few–the classic, “Still I Rise” and a few others.

So yes, be open to all possibilities and projects–and you may cringe at the majority of them, but it’s a small price to pay in this endless, creative life you’ve chosen.

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.

3 Vitally Important Bukowski Quotes for the Depressed Creative

3 Vitally Important Charles Bukowski Quotes for the Depressed Creative

Cultural Commentary, How-to Articles

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness

The Laughing Heart by Charles Bukowski

I have watched creative people go to places with no exit. It’s called depression. It never gets easy: there’s no icing, fluff, or extra stuff to be served on the side that will make it more than a horrid, seemingly everlasting entree. You call for the waiter to take it back; the waiter never comes. There you are, staring at this pitiful meal with a shitty garnish on the side. Just add the fact that you’re a writer, musician, or painter, and now you’re a stereotype. Cue the sad trombone.1

The Bukowkski poem you see above, The Laughing Heart, is a conquest over deadening misery. Pity. Loathing. I have never seen such hope coming from easily one of the most depressing writers of modern history. Bukowski’s early life was characterized by loneliness and abuse. His former veteran father tried swaying him to zealous patriotism and American ideals. He had severe acne which alienated him from his peers in high school. He spent ten years as a drunk on skid row in Los Angeles and started writing seriously after contracting a bleeding ulcer from excess alcohol consumption. He is a scorched, beaten up SOB, but not without a note of redemption and light.

Yet our modern portrayals of creative people are cartoonish and bland. They don’t touch mental illness with a ten foot pole. No longer are artists the martyrs of our society, exiles living in depravity, familiar with crippling depressions or brutal living conditions. They’re not rebels or deviants. Movies like Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl; RENT; stars like Zooey Deschanel, Lena Dunham, and other poster-people of the “quirky creative” type make art and suffering seem… safe. Fun. Charming. (Maybe this is because contemporary, real-life artists play it safe.)

In my experience, artists who take their work very seriously are familiar with ditches, valleys, and prolonged suffering and despair. It’s essential to be brave in this way, but also to never let it destroy you as it has destroyed other famous artists. Bukowski, a depressed creative himself, makes the shitty sound hopeful and inspiring in the following three vitally important sound bytes.

1. Lifedance

The area dividing the brain and the soul
is affected in many ways by
experience –

Some lose all mind and become soul:
Some lose all soul and become mind:
Some lose both and become:

Remember to be wary of feeling “accepted.” It feels great until you realize you’ve lost parts of yourself or your work to be considered something to everybody else. You should be especially cautious if you want to create something, because that something will always be new and different if you’re doing it right. You’re inherently taking the risk that people will turn their nose at your work. Instead of this becoming a preoccupation, let your work become a product of your mind and soul. Otherwise, why do it?

2. Blessed with a Crappy Life

I was blessed with a crappy life, that’s all. A crappy life to write about. A lot of writers they get famous at 22, 23 and then…they’re in the “literary world.” They’re going to cocktail parties. And nothing’s happening but…that. So then, they’re on the manure pile.

Bukowski said this in an interview a year before he passed away. When he was 23, he stopped writing and dropped out of the community college. He worked crappy jobs at a dog biscuit factory and the post office. By no means did he live an exhilarating or even outrageous existence. No matter how mundane, droll, or crappy you perceive your life to be, remember just how much beauty and humor can come of it.

3. Depression and Sleep Can Rejuvenate Creative Juices

I have periods where, you know, when I feel a little weak or depressed. Fuck it! The Wheaties aren’t going down right. I just go to bed for three days and four nights, pull down all the shades and just go to bed. Get up. Shit. Piss. Drink a beer down and go back to bed. I come out of that completely re-enlightened for 2 or 3 months. I get power from that.

I think someday…they’ll say this psychotic guy knew something that…you know in days ahead and medicine, and how they figure these things out. Everybody should go to bed now and then, when they’re down low and give it up for three or four days. Then they’ll come back good for a while.

Easily, over-sleeping is a surefire sign of depression (though humans have, contrary to popular belief, the ability to hibernate). Research shows that sleeping more than 10 hours will likely make you feel more miserable. Yet Bukowski had a point in that sometimes, when you fret over what you should do, maybe it’s best to do nothing at all. Let your subconscious work on the grind. Let it chew on the ideas for you. If you have to force creativity out, why do it? The answer is: don’t.

Light travels faster than anything, so it won’t be too long that you spend in the dark until you see it once more. Keep doing things differently if that one thing isn’t working. Even if you’re afraid your creative pursuits won’t do you justice, that they won’t be perfect or even any good at all, let yourself fail. Then see how you feel.


1. The idea of the suffering and pitiful artist is a deeply ingrained one. So much so, we might conceive it as a conceptual metaphor: creativity = misery?

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.

(Aspiring to Be) Inspiring Writing Prompt #6


(Aspiring to Be) Inspiring Writing Prompt #6

Jim Carrey as Truman in the “Truman Show,” escaping the television set that was his prison for his whole life. At the top of this staircase isn’t a dream, but a harsh and chaotic reality he has yet to discover.

That “upward” feeling is really what drives most of us, isn’t it? Food, yummy. Sex, good. The familiar “ups.” What about when we realize a dream? Isn’t that when we hit the sky’s ceiling?

I thought about this when revisiting the work of one of my favorite actors, Jim Carrey. Everyone knows from watching his adrenaline-charged, highly energetic performances that there’s got to be a different man who walks off the set. When he’s on, he’s on, flying above our heads, though Carrey himself has alluded to the depth of his lows in life:

There are peaks, there are valleys. But they’re all kind of carved and smoothed out, and it feels like a low level of despair you live in. Where you’re not getting any answers, but you’re living OK. And you can smile at the office. You know? But it’s a low level of despair. I was on Prozac for a long time. It may have helped me out of a jam for a little bit, but people stay on it forever. I had to get off at a certain point because I realized that, you know, everything’s just OK.

A flat landscape doesn’t make as compelling of an image as a painting with clouds high in the sky, slightly parted, with deep valleys tucked between high mountains. I am riveted. Can we only ever reach as high as we’ve been below? Do the depths of our suffering precede our ascendance? What’s intriguing to me is I can’t decide whether I’d prefer to ride it out in the desert, aware of an ever consistent beauty, or to explore the so-called peaks and valleys, both the hot and cold terrain. They do say that manic depressives are the hardest to cure because as much as they hate the lows of their depression, they love their high-energy manic phases that much more.

Write a recommended 300-900 words about a person you know who seems to be familiar with the highs and lows of life, be they yourself, friends, or relatives. Write about a moment of envy, distrust, contempt, joy, fear, or despair. Treat this like a vignette or a launch pad for a longer essay.

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.