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.

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.

(Aspiring to Be) Inspiring Writing Prompt #6

Uncategorized

(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.

Love is put on an altar in our media, movies, music, and culture, above exploration, critical thinking, and self-development.

(Aspiring to Be) Inspiring Writing Prompt #5

Uncategorized

Love is put on an altar in our media, movies, music, and culture, above exploration, critical thinking, and self-development.

“Love is put on an altar in our media, movies, music, and culture, above exploration, critical thinking, and self-development.”

Forget love. When the schedule says it will be there at 5pm, it arrives when we’ve already decided that an hour was too long to wait, so we hail a taxi with a odorous, gentle, beastly, but unusually polite man shrouded in cigar smoke. Unknown to us, we will end up marrying and loving this man perhaps until the day we die and think: “What if I had waited ten more minutes?”

Maybe you do. Maybe you get on the train, full of expectations. Will today be the day that Robert finally stops taking all the credit around the office? Will the invigorating start of a new phase in your life build up to something beyond fantasy? Ecstasy, even?

Maybe the people at the office start to take notice. Maybe you feel just a little bit better about yourself. Maybe it lasts. Maybe it doesn’t.

In American society, we don’t scrutinize love or care to break it down. Settling down and making a family is a taken-for-granted fact of life, a norm. Love is put on an altar in our media, movies, music, and culture, above exploration, critical thinking, and self-development. Some conspiracy theorists would suggest that love is popularized by our corporate culture because it incentivizes more consumption of goods. You’re not just buying for one anymore, kiddo. You’re buying for four.

Write about whether you think love has lived up to your expectations. Or a time when it defied them, in positive or negative ways. In what manner is love a “trap?” If it’s not, what is it to you?

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.

You found a series of riddles in your bike basket accompanied by a feather and a plastic compass. It led you here, on this bridge, and you don't know who or what you're looking for.

(Aspiring to Be) Inspiring Writing Prompt #4

Uncategorized

You found a series of riddles in your bike basket accompanied by a feather and a plastic compass. It led you here, on this bridge, and you don't know who or what you're looking for.

You found a series of riddles in your bike basket accompanied by a feather and a plastic compass. It led you here, on this bridge, and you don’t know who or what you’re looking for.

You wake up and you’re running late for work. Shit. You brush your teeth and you can barely stand to look at yourself in the mirror because you know that’s how you’ll look for the rest of the day. After throwing on your biggest coat (it is February in New York, after all) you run down the metal staircase to your trusty bike. As if your morning weren’t already full of alarming surprises, you find a feather, plastic compass, and a riddle. The riddle leads you to various other riddles in the city, and they offer rather personal details about yourself you haven’t disclosed to many people in your lifetime. You get to the Brooklyn Bridge and there is a void. No slip with sloppy handwriting to give you hints. Are you waiting for someone? Something?

Write a story about the riddles and the kinds of details they know about you or your imagined protagonist. What is going to happen at the bridge? If anything at all? Do more alarming surprises await you in the following days? Weeks? Years?

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.

Two folded maroon button up shirts lay on his bed, their brass studs on the shoulders saying: "Hello again, friend."

Playing with Fire: Brandon Flowers Runs Away to Las Vegas

Uncategorized

Two folded maroon button up shirts lay on his bed, their brass studs on the shoulders saying:

Two folded maroon button up shirts lay on his bed, their brass studs on the shoulders saying: “Hello again, friend.”

I’ve written another response to writing prompt #2, and this time, it’s a little deeper than Smashmouth running away from the cops after he steals a watch. This time, I’m responding to Brandon Flowers’ “Playing with Fire” from his solo album, Flamingo Road. It’s incredibly soulful and reads like an epic of a young hero going out into the world on his own for the first time, knowing nothing beyond the limits of his incredibly small town, defying the wishes of his father, and whipped around in an inner turmoil. It’s a true story, based on Brandon Flowers leaving the tiny Mormon town of Nephi, Utah to live in Las Vegas and pursue greater heights just before he graduated high school.

Let me know what you think, or if you write a response on your blog, I’ll share it here on mine!


Two folded maroon button up shirts lay on his bed, their brass studs on the shoulders saying: “Hello again, friend.” He hadn’t seen them since he was eight years old. Being hefty at that age, they still fit him perfectly in his more mature physique, though loose around the gut. Dawn came early, earlier than he was prepared for, the sun now shining on the open meadows he’d struggled with ever since his family first moved in.

His father started dressing in shirts and ties the second he got into the Nephi town border. He burned all of his neon pink shirts, leather belts, and rodeo pants in a bonfire the weekend they arrived. He already flushed his booze down the toilet in their home in Henderson, letting Brandon and his siblings watch. Brandon saw his father walk into a new skin almost overnight and appreciated the quiet nights now that he wasn’t yelling at mom about how rude the grocery clerk was, his ruddy cheeks flaming red. But Brandon couldn’t see why they all had to move to Nephi.

“Son, you may hate it here. You might hate me for it for the rest of your life, but this is going to be for the best. For all of us. You can’t understand the kinds of things I’m going through, and that’s okay. But your dad is working it out. And! We’ll be going to church. A lot. So. Just buckle in tight,” his father said as he blew smoke from his very last cigarette. Brandon clutched his maroon shirts to his chest like a baby blanket, not wanting to let go of that nearby Las Vegas strip, the bright colors, and magenta colored streets. He could almost cry thinking of seeing Elton John for the first time, walking down the streets with big red glasses and white bell bottoms.

Squeezed between his brothers and sisters, he listened to Crocodile Rock on repeat until he made out the Nephi City sign. It was playing now on his boombox, and as it faded out, he clicked the suitcase shut.

As he walked into the kitchen past the bedrooms, the floorboards creaked. He might as well make some tea. It would lift some of the weight he felt on his chest now. The sun was now strong on the green grass and the dirt road leading off to the desert highway. His father left his bible out on the table, a plastic lizard bookmark underlining the passage:

“Whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day.”

Brandon’s pockets were full of the money he’d made from working the corner store. His bus left at 8:00am, sharp. He wouldn’t have much time, but he knew his father would be awake soon. Terry always made a list as long as his forearm of errands and chores that he started no later than 6:30am every day. Most of it was preparing for church events, buying food, passing out invitations to this or that Sunday lunch. Pioneer Day was the busiest, the week before his father would wake at 4:00am to start building the pioneer wagon that the Mormons used for their mission to Utah. Brandon and his siblings helped out, and were no less obligated to dress up, wave, and smile as they rode through town. One thing Brandon noticed was that dedication was constantly being confused with humility.

Terry’s door creaked open, his hair brushed and leather workboots already on. His eyes glinted in the new day’s light, his steps were swift and open. Ever since he stopped smoking, the bags in his eyes had flattened revealing a glorious bone structure and golden skin tone. He stopped at the sight of his high school aged son, barely grown, sitting at the table with tea and his old neon-blue suitcase resting at his feet.

“Morning, dad. Tea kettle’s done. The mug’s there with some honey.”

“Brandon,” Terry slapped his gloves on the counter and buckled his knees. “What are you up to?”

“We talked about this. You know today was the day.”

“You got laundry in there or something? Brandon, go back to sleep. We’ll talk about it at noon.”

“I bought the bus ticket. One way. Nonrefundable.”

Terry couldn’t stifle his country laugh, long suppressed since picking up the Book of Mormon. It was healthy. But sinister. He poured his tea and writhed slightly in his work clothes that now seemed foreign as dad’s mask started to slip. He unbuttoned the first two buttons of his shirt and blew the steam from his mug. Just a minute ago, he was spry and ready for God’s to-do for the day. Now, he looked unmistakably tragic.

“Brandon, I don’t see what’s so bad about it here. You have your friends, John, James. It’s not big, or flashy. But it’s life. And it’s your life until you get your diploma.” A slight pause. “And until you wave one last time for the parade. Wrap everything up. That’s when we’ll begin to talk about it.”

“I’m ready for Vegas. Now. We’ve seen what happens to the boys who grow up here and stay. They waste away. Some of them go out on “missions” just to come back junkies. And I’m  being honest, I never understood why people did drugs in Vegas. Nephi makes me get it. Ok? ”

“You’re trying to go to the hoarder house of sin.”

“I’ll keep my faith with me. I’m bringing my book.”

“No, Brandon. Why did I move everyone out here? To be closer to God. You’re going to live in the pit of the devil’s warehouse. And you’re just going to stay there, lapsing around, going to Big Whoever’s casino, to do what exactly? There are three things in Vegas: sex, money, and drugs.”

“You tell the people at church He sent me a message. To go.”

The clock hit seven. He needed to start walking, soon. He poured out his tea in the sink, the scent of lavender surprisingly soothing. He could feel his dad’s stone eyes coming down hard on his spine. He could hear their neighbors chatting, old Nicholas yelling about a broken chicken feed. Tabatha was already collecting hay, her long light brown hair swaying as she bent down. At that moment, he could stay here forever. But he let it pass.

“I’m leaving, Dad. I’ve said my goodbyes to everyone. Even Mom. I saved you for last because I knew it’d be like this. I’m walking out that door, and I’m taking that road you take every day, riding it all the way to Vegas.”

“You staying with uncle Tom, then?”

“Yeah.”

His father’s eyes became open and watery, almost childishly round. “Be safe, son. Please.,” he pulled Brandon into an embrace. “Don’t betray me. Don’t betray us. Don’t you betray the Lord.”

“God is the one sending me out.”

He picked up his suitcase and heard his father’s silence as he sat at the table. He knew his family would wake up and try to comfort him. It was a godsent that liquor couldn’t be found for miles, otherwise the whole house would be in shambles. He didn’t know what pushed his feet forward as he walked to that small station just outside of town. He just knew that from a very young age, those neon lights were a mystery to him. All those bright blues and pinks never left his sleeping eyes, not even in a town that barely used paint. It’s like he could feel their warmth, only to wake up to blackness and barley. For a moment, he was scared that the grounded lit up signs on the strip would phase the night sky from his memory. This moment passed.

The process had been started, the moment he pressed play on his Sony boombox and he heard all those voices soar. Demons hammered down on his head and body, he felt ill. But the wind rushing against his back as he passed the angels and their trumpets, as that bus opened its door, as the birds chirped and flew over the meadows. That was divine.

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.

You wake up in a desert with a huge and mysterious headache. You're covered in dust. Behind you, there's a post with a hawk sitting on top of it. Tied to its talon is an envelope with your name on it.

(Aspiring to Be) Inspiring Writing Prompt #3

Uncategorized

You wake up in a desert with a huge and mysterious headache. You're covered in dust. Behind you, there's a post with a hawk sitting on top of it. Tied to its talon is an envelope with your name on it.

You wake up in a desert with a huge and mysterious headache. You’re covered in dust. Behind you, there’s a post with a hawk sitting on top of it. Tied to its talon is an envelope with your name on it.

This should be a fun one.

Last night was a regular night, though something didn’t settle with you. Maybe you had the feeling of being watched but chalked it up to your usual paranoid tendencies. You fall asleep alone, soothed by the regular sounds of your town or city, be it chirping crickets or a constant flow of cars.

When you wake up, the only thing you see is white. Could this be heaven? Your head is searing with pain, and in the shocking heat, this is the only thing you can focus on. You know you’re not in your bed. And when you look around, all you see is a desert with no sign of humanity, not even in the far off horizon.

You hear a scratching sound behind you. You turn around. It’s a hawk perched on one wooden post, and you wipe off the dust on your face just to make sure you’re seeing correctly. It’s piercing golden eyes aren’t looking your way. Tied to its talon is an envelope with your name on it.

Write at least a page about what’s inside. Who is the message from? Why are you in the desert? Is this meant to teach you a lesson? This could easily be a fantasy or nonfiction piece, which gives you so much more room to explore.

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 #2

Uncategorized, Writing Prompts

(Aspiring to Be) Inspiring Writing Prompt #2

In my imagination, “All Star” was written after Steve went through a breakup, shoplifted a watch, and got hunted by small-town cops.

Pick one of your favorite songs of any genre. Ask yourself: “Why did this singer write this song?” Was there a specific event that triggered the lyricist to write it? Write down your answer and get into the artists’ shoes. While you’re speculating about what gave this person inspiration, look for ways it could inspire you to write something else later on down the line. Investigate inspiration in and of itself, so that you can identify it and find muses hiding around in the cracks and corners of your life. But for right now, you’re writing about this particular artist and this particular event in the form of a poem, short story, brief explanation, poem, or anything of your liking.

For this activity, I responded to the infamously catchy “All Star” by Smash Mouth, the theme song to my childhood. In my imagination, Steve (yes, the leader singer’s name is “Steve” not “Smash Mouth” as some people might call him while throwing bread at him on stage) wrote this after a breakup with a ditzy girlfriend. He’s walking from her her house and sees the watch he wants in the window. He’d been saving up but couldn’t afford it because of his girl running up his credit card. He breaks the glass, puts it in his pocket, and sprints away from the small-town cops. And this, in my mind, was what inspired Steve to write the 90’s epic, “All Star”!

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.