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Drafts and Revisions

Malcolm Gladwell

Lesson time 20:19 min

Getting a piece of writing to a finished state is a process. Malcolm walks you through his approach, from first draft to final polishing.

Malcolm Gladwell
Teaches Writing
In 24 lessons, the author of Blink and The Tipping Point teaches you how to find, research, and write stories that capture big ideas.
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To me, the most important thing is, what is your expectation as a writer? How much you can write? I think it's very important to set a realistic expectation. So the feeling of failure that writers sometimes have is very often caused by the fact they have too high an expectation for how much they can produce in a given day or given sitting. Or they'll say, ugh, I only did two paragraphs today, and they'll feel like a failure. And it'll cause anxiety, and they won't sleep. The next day, they'll wake up. And they'll be exhausted and full of stress and won't be able to write. The truth is, you can't write a lot in a day. Can't-- it's demanding creative work. It's physically strenuous. It's mentally strenuous. It wears you out. I often find myself mulling over something just in my head for 10 times longer than that I would actually spend writing that section. A productive day for me is a day where if I have a good page, I'm delighted. If a book is 300 pages, and I do a good page in a day, that suggests I can do a book in a reasonable period of time. That's a lot, actually. But there are some writers who if I told-- what is a page 3 and 1/2 paragraphs, four paragraphs? Some writers would say if I only did four paragraphs in a day, I failed. Again, you set yourself up for disappointment. If you raise the bar that high, a few good paragraphs represent a substantial achievement. So once you think about it that way, you think, well, when I think about it, I think if I get up in the morning and do my writing well, my mind is fresh. I should be able to accomplish what I need to accomplish by lunchtime. So I work in the mornings, and I rarely do anything of creative value. In the afternoon, organize my life and organize the next days, do my reporting, and all those kinds of things. But the morning is if I can do a couple of good hours in the morning, then I feel like I have moved the bar that day-- moved the ball that day, rather. [MUSIC PLAYING] The perfect is the enemy of the good is one of the most important aphorisms I repeat to myself. So if you're trying to produce the perfect piece, you'll never produce it. So you have to accept the fact that your first couple of drops are going to be bad. They're always bad. By definition, they're bad. You don't know what you're doing yet. But it's very important to go through the stage of just getting things on the page. And also, the act of expanding your argument or make or telling your story is how the story emerges. You figure out how to tell the story as you tell it necessarily. Responding to pieces that you think will work together don't work together, or pieces you think don't work together do unexpectedly, where you find ways to link things just in the moment as you're writing. So you have to trust that process and just get things down-- so when I start, I'm just getting things down on the page. And I have big gaps. Or if I have problems I can't resolve, I just don't resolv...

Transform the ordinary

Ketchup. Crime. Quarterbacks. Thanks to Malcolm Gladwell’s books, these ordinary subjects have helped millions of readers grasp complex ideas like behavioral economics and performance prediction. Now, the renowned storyteller and best-selling author of Blink and The Tipping Point is teaching his first online writing class. Craft stories that captivate by learning how Malcolm researches topics, crafts characters, and distills big ideas into simple, powerful narratives.


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

Excellent! I love the way Malcolm Gladwell thinks. Whenever I listen to a Gladwell interview or lecture, I come away with a new, richeer perspective.

It was fascinating to listen to Malcolm Gladwell explain his views on writing non-fiction. I am a playwright but found his class incredibly helpful as I develop characters for my plays.

This master class has encouraged me to think about writing differently and strive to find unique ways to write for fun and professionally.

Brilliant insights about research, interviewing, honoring your sources, and making things interesting...learned a lot.


A fellow student

I looked for the google chrome add. It did make me cry. Loving this class its such a privilege to see Malcolm´s thought process

Matthew S.

This is some of the best content on writing I've seen. It's one thing to collect a ton of principles and examples, but it's a bit more impactful to have someone put you in the mental space of redrafting. Especially the most frequently sabotaging moments. I immediately emailed a buddy to watch this.

A fellow student

This is something that every aspiring writer experiences, the struggle to get an idea out and run with it. Its a constant journey of trial and error. Cool lesson and nothing can be perfect

Brian Francis Hume

As usual, there were so many brilliant insights Malcolm shared in this session. Though I am not yet a published author, I am a writer. And as a writer I have gone through the drafting and revising process many times. I love his emphasis to simply write "good enough" the first time around without the noose of perfection hanging over our head. Recognizing that expectations as writers need to be intentionally managed with realistic goals. Liberating. This will be helpful for me moving forward in order to celebrate the progress made. Instead of lamenting over "not enough" after a day's work, I am simply going to rejoice in "good enough" when writing the first draft. For me, this brings me back to the simple truth: writers write because they enjoy the opportunity to write. When unrealistic expectations derail my writing, it steals my enjoyment of the creative process. That must be guarded at all cost.

Jennie C.

I would love be physically in one of his classes....Sound advice given about drafts, revisions, exceeding expectations. Now, I realize I have too hard on myself and will relax more while writing; thus, I think my productivity will be enhanced. Like some of my comrades on the thread, I work better around 4:30am--It is my belief that when unreasonable expectations are set, emotional and intellectual paralysis set in... Enjoy the gift that you have..sharing your knowledge of the world (from your perspective) with others..

Katherine T.

Malcolm is delightful. He has a passion for his work and glows. His eagerness is contagious and inspiring. His instructions are easy to follow and understand. His tips and strategies are well thought-out. He clearly put a lot of work into his presentations, his class. His is the kind of writing I'd like to achieve. Who wouldn't??? I feel grateful to have the opportunity to hear him speak to me and share his "secrets." I'm sure I'll be using them - or trying to - in all of my continued writings. I write about nutrition, and it seems like I'm always preaching to the choir. I would like to write in surprising ways, to catch the reader and keep them. I have been a columnist for The Washington Post, Shape Magazine, Vegetarian Times, etc, and a few articles for The Washington Post went viral (5 So-Called Health Foods You Should Avoid). I believe what I write about is life-saving and people would benefit from reading my stories. But they don't! So, it must be the way I'm writing is a problem. It's probably just plain bor-ing! I'm hoping Malcolm will help me find ways to capture and keep my readers and to inspire them to make positive changes in their lives, or at least think about it. I've written a book (Diet Simple: 195 Mental Tricks, Substitutions, Habits & Inspirations) that I'm proud of, but I don't make much money from it. I'd like to write a best-seller that will tell some truths about dieting, that will surprise and delight them. But I must improve the way I communicate on the written page. Thank you Malcolm for being so generous with your talent! Katherine Tallmadge


He let out a lot of air in the over inflated balloon for me and reshaped it into one that we all can use. Writing as little as a page, a few paragraphs, and a couple of paragraphs was a sigh of relief. I thought writers wrote almost near perfect chapters at a time. To write in the morning works for him and I have found taking this Master Class while working on my book works best for me in the morning. Most helpful today was Malcolm's tips working backwards from the end. I was stuck and his words helped tremendously.

Bevis L.

It struck me how he said he works in the mornings best, for a couple hours or so, I may not get much more substantial creative work done in a day. I find that too so that’s reassuring

Jacqueline W.

Malcolm, do you do a substantial amount of outlining? I’m asking this question because of the advice given on writer’s block.

Ekin Ö.

Well, working from backward looks like a great tool! And I love how he altered Frank Sinatra's song. :-) By the way, the suggestion to keep writing does wonder. I'm a software developer, and I see programming as a creative craft. Whenever I get a writer's block, I keep writing code, and it works itself out.