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Arts & Entertainment

Writing Process

David Mamet

Lesson time 9:26 min

David discusses how he begins writing, the environment in which he likes to write, how he deals with writer's block, and how he looks to Hemingway for inspiration on how to begin writing.

David Mamet
Teaches Dramatic Writing
The Pulitzer Prize winner teaches you everything he's learned across 26 video lessons on dramatic writing.
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I just went up to this house in Vermont that I've been living for more than 40 years. Many kids, and dogs, and marriages, and outdoor excursions, and collecting this, and that, I had to clean it all out. And I looked at it and I thought, my god, there's no way to do this. It was the old . I don't even know where to start. So the answer is, there's no good place to start. Just jump in and muck in like the rest of us. Talking about poetry, there was a couple of books written about something called The Jailhouse Toast. I don't know if anybody knows The Jailhouse toast anymore. The Jailhouse Toasts were and are, oral tradition epic poems. The equivalent of the Iliad and the Odyssey. And they came out of the jailhouse basically, black jailhouses in the South, and became current throughout the jail system. And I encountered them with some ex-convicts I used to hang out with in Chicago in the 60s. And one of them was called The Stagger Lee Toast, and it went on forever and people would-- just like cadence in the military-- they would add to it, they would embellish it, they would throw in verses. One was called The Stagger Lee one, talk about your gambles, you ought to see my Richard Lee, shot $10,000 and he come out on a three, when you lose your money learn to lose. And The Stagger Lee was this bad man, a black man, a bad man. And it went on forever and people would embellish it. And another one was called The Signifying Monkey. Way down in the jungle where the eye can't see, signifying monkey climbed up a tree. And that would go on forever and people would add to it. And one was called The Titanic Toast, which was a toast about the Titanic, went down in 1912. And about this guy who was a black stoker, and he got on the Titanic as a stoker. And he's talking all about Jack Johnson, who was the champion of the world but they wouldn't let him in the Titanic because he was African American. And it saved his life because the Titanic went down. And so Stagger Lee has to save the captain's life and the captain is saying, check the stoker, I forgot his name, he's got to save the captain's life. And he says, oh my god, my daughter, what will the answer be? And the guy says, get your ass in the water and swim like me. So a guy came out of Harvard University in the 70s, and he wrote a history of Jailhouse Toasts with a great title, Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me. So that's my advice to you guys. I don't have a secret that I'd like to share with you about my process, because I don't know what my process is. And if I did, I wouldn't tell you for fear of, God forbid, offending it. But if you like, I'll make up something. You know how Hemingway always wrote standing up? You've heard that? Everyone's heard that right? Well, I write sitting down. You got to sit down at the damn desk, and as Hemingway sai...

Write great drama

David Mamet sat in on a poker game full of thieves and left with the inspiration for American Buffalo. Now, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of Glengarry Glen Ross takes you through his process for turning life’s strangest moments into dramatic art. In his writing class, he’ll teach you the rules of drama, the nuances of dialogue, and the skills to develop your own voice and create your masterpiece.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Mamet is a master---story teller, philosopher, playwright. He speaks rhythmically and rarely breaks stride. He poses a question, rephrases that, poses a conventional answer and responds in the opposite. All beautifully presented.

This guy is such a natural teacher. It was hard to write fast enough — things he said and ideas he was making me think of. And how does he know all those quotes? I will definitely take this class again, maybe even more times. What a resource.

David help lay a great foundation of the writing process for beginners. I'm so glad he shared these lessons and look forward to applying these tools.

David is such a great and wonderful teacher. His classes were truly inspiring. 10/10


Myriam B.

He didn't labor this point, but for me it was very important - the difference between the conscious and subconscious writing, and how this will engage the conscious or subconscious in the audience accordingly. And the conscious stuff is just "Oh yeah, OK, I get it. So what?" I think there's so much emphasis on the conscious aspect of writing that this nebulous "unconscious" aspect is often ignored in material teaching people how to write. And it often makes me feel actively DISCOURAGED from delving into my subconscious. So thank you David, you're the first person I've come across to mention this.

J.J. A.

Eliminate the distractions. I got so leisurely that my leisure time was full of distractions. Back to the basics!!

Marilie B.

Art is a roller coaster. The ups and downs are intense. I love every bump and turn.

Robert Lewis H.

26 letters. That's all just 26 letters. What's the problem? They're all there on the keyboard in three neat rows. Just hit the bloody things. It's said a monkey can eventually write all the works of Shakespeare, and that Shakespeare could have written all the lyrics of the Monkeys. So whats the problem. Sit your ass down and friggin' hit those lil' old plastic keyboard letters. Here endeth the lesson. Amen.

Mia S.

"A play's got to be crafted. You can start with a precipitating event, you can start with a line of dialogue,but you want to be is inspired. Because if it's not fun for you, it's not going to be fun for the audience. If you know at the beginning, you're in a lot of trouble. 'The perfect girl, I'll know her when I see her because here's what she's going to be like.' 'Yes, I have this feeling about this person over there, but it's not part of my plan, so I can't pay attention to that.' You'rein a lot of trouble. If you start out and you know what that drama is when you sit down, you're not delving into your unconscious mind, so the audience will not participate with their unconscious mind. They will participate with their conscious mind - 'Oh yes, I see.' But so what? None of them are gonna go, 'Ooh.' Whatever you do first, you're going to have to do the other thing. If you write the scenes, you're eventually going to have to do the structure, and they're going to inform each other. and reform your diagnosis. The best thing is when you come to the end of the process, you say, 'Oh my god, I was wrong all along. That's not what this play is about.' Because you stuck with it, theoretically, the audience can go through the same thing. They're not going to go through anything you haven't gone through. The tough part in dramatic writing for me, is at some point you've got to say, 'OK I'm done screwing around. I've got three hours of the most beautiful scenes anybody ever wrote, I'm going to have to sit down and wade through them, throw them out and structure them into something.' Davy Crockett says, 'I was never lost, but I was once a mite bewildered for three weeks.' I don't know if I experience writer's block, but sometimes I get stuck. I'll take a nap, or I'll write something else, or I'll force myself. It's very hard to know if the correct answer, any given day, is Go back, for God's sake and figure it out; or, Take the day off and go take a walk. It's hard to know. I work on one thing until I get bored or I get blocked, and then I come back the next day and work on it again. My wife always says she knows when something's going great when on Monday and Wednesday I'm saying it's the best thing I've ever written and Tuesday and Thursday I'm saying I want to kill myself, I'm a no good hack."

Mia S.

"I don't even know where to start. The answer is, there's no good place to start. Just jump in and muck in like the rest of us. The Jailhouse Toasts were and are oral tradition epic poems - it went on forever and people would - just like cadence in the military - they would add to it, embellish it, throw in verses. 'Get your ass in the water and swim like me.' That's my advice to you guys. I don't know what my process is, and if I didn't I wouldn't tell you for fear of God forbid offending it. Hemingway always wrote standing up. I write sitting down. As Hemingway said, sit down at the typewriter and bleed. Throw away all the distractions and write something. If you can write it better, write it better. If you think it's perfect, put it on, learn from the audience, rewrite it, write another one. You've got to have leisure, in order to write. You've got to have a lack of distractions. When you're writing, what are you doing? There's basically nothing there, except your own diseased consciousness. I become very very attached to the very few artifacts that are around me. You ever been lost in the woods, the things that helped you get out, they have a real meaning for you. Obviously I'm going to praise those things I found good, and suggest that they're a universal good. Perhaps they aren't a universal good, perhaps they're just good for me. What was good for me, was a beautiful fountain pen, and doing a million drafts, and having the drafts all in front of me. I have an affinity for the things I know and love, so I'm going to universalize and say, 'Oh, that's the only way to write.'"

maggie R.

a first: you have to have leisure to write. i totally believe this and yet this is the FIRST writer i have ever heard say it out loud!


Funny, leisure is precisely why its taking so long for me to finish my screenplay! I need to bleed a bit more often!

cynic S.

Seriously? a nine and a half minute class on writing process and three minutes of it recounting an anecdote whose punchline you have already mentioned? No good. This class was no good. Definitely more is expected from David Mamet.

Blake Lawless

Distraction ??? When I wake in the morning.... Focus is always the,,, Ah, I forgot.