Writing

How to Read

Malcolm Gladwell

Lesson time 12:17 min

Malcolm believes that you can’t become a great writer without being a great reader. Learn Malcolm’s strategies for critical reading.

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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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The way to keep your reader in mind as a writer is first and foremost to be a reader. And when I say that, I don't just mean someone who reads, but I mean someone who takes the task of reading seriously. One of the things that drives me crazy about bad book reviewers is that bad book reviewers are ones who-- the question they're trying to answer when they write their review is if I were writing this book, how would I have written it? And if the way the author wrote it deviates from the way the reviewer would have done it him or herself, the reviewer gives the book a bad review. That's being a bad reader. The good reader is the one who says, what did the author intend when he or she was writing this book? And if you feel like the author lives up to the intention, his or her intention, then the book is a success. Now, discovering someone's intention is not easy. It requires attention and work and thought. And it means you have to pause every now and again and reflect on what you just read. It means that you maybe shouldn't read in huge big gulps. Maybe you should read in little pieces so that you can chew over what you've just learned. Reading, when you think about reading as an act as consequential as writing-- it's not a lesser act. You don't read because you can't write or you don't want to write or you want to leave writing to others. Reading is of equal importance to writing. There is no writing without reading. Some people say, I write, you know, even if no one reads it. Nonsense. If no one read stuff, no one would write anything. These two acts, reading and writing, are symbiotic. They are coupled. And to do one well requires doing the other well. [INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC PLAYING] The problem with writing criticism, as it's called, is the word criticism. So people-- you know, we call a film-- someone who writes about film, a film critic. And the implicit assumption driven by that word is that the job of the critic is to criticize. That's not true. The job of the film critic is to appreciate. Sometimes in appreciation, what we do is we point out the things that are not worthy of our appreciation. But the real job is to point out the things that are worthy of our appreciation. There is no point to that. There's no point to being someone who writes about other people's creations if you're not enthusiastic about the world that you're writing about. So the thing that I look for in a book reviewer that I love-- there's a book reviewer for "The New York Times" called Dwight Garner. I just adore him. I never met him. I adore him. Why do I adore him? Because he gives you the sensation that he really enjoys reading books. It's as simple as that. And he looks for things in the books that he writes about that made him happy. And he doesn't think that his job is to be a downer and is to seek out criticism-- seek out reasons to be critical. One of the things that you learn, if you've written a lot of criticism, is that being...


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.



Reviews

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

I am an aspiring writer who wishes to do so many things that Malcolm does so well. In the end, it is always about connection, relationships, and shared experiences. Thank you for your inspiration.

This is a wealth of knowledge and insight. Thank you for sharing.

I have learned about the craft of writing non-fiction in way that is new to me. The lessons are very practical and can be incorporated in to my work discipline easily.

I am most interested in writing fiction and I could tell that Malcom's knowlege went well past the world of Non Fiction. I enjoyed the class.


Comments

Mary L.

This is valuable to remember. I think it's useful to remember that the words "critic" and "criticism" are not inherently negative. They stem from words like "critical" and "critique" which mean to be evaluative, not to be negative. So when you are critiquing you are not aiming to be negative, you are aiming to be evaluative - both positive and negative - and there is no way to be properly evaluative if you're not being properly appreciative. It's a yin and yang of reading *and* writing. If you don't appreciate both the positive AND the negative, you won't appropriately contextualize either.

Julie M.

It wasn't until I started seriously writing that I learned to really read. I have read since childhood. And read a lot. But I read for entertainment. But now, when I read, I read not only because I am interested in the subject matter, not only because I want to escape into another world and be entertained for a moment, now I read to understand. I read a chapter recently and immediately I stopped and thought "How did she do that? How did she capture me so quickly, so absolutely, that I am now willing to purchase the book and cannot wait to read the next chapter?" I then went back and re-read the chapter. I noticed her transitions, her 'hooks', her immediate graps of character and setting that pulled me in. Those things became things in my tool box. I read the entire book, a historical fiction book, and I not only loved it as a reader, I loved it as a writer. And after this lesson from Gladwell, I have more tools in my toolbox, more obervations I can make when reading, more purposefulness to my reading, all things that will make me a better reader, and ultimately (hopefully) a better writer.

Ekin Ö.

Discover intent, appreciate the piece, keep the context in mind, follow the writer's sources: Brilliant! To me, he defines reading as though it was "active listening" in a conversation.

Brett G.

"To write well, requires to read well." Nice. I also liked his opinion on critics - that they should be focused on what they appreciate from the work rather than doing the easy part - being critical of it (although then MG talks about his dislike for To Kill a Mockingbird...). I did a blog post for work about a book that I said I didn't really like but that there was one really good part that made it worth the read. In hindsight, I could have just focused on that one good part and left the rest alone. Lesson learned!

Sarah S.

I look at what others have done. I'm very interested in other writers and their approach, even if mine is much different.

Nathan V.

SO important, in schools now they don't allow some old books, because people believe they are racist, but as Malcolm talked about in this lesson, he is a different person now and has different opinions now than he did in 99, that doesn't make his book any less good, his writing is still good he just has opinions that we don't agree with today and he doesn't even agree with today. I should've been able to read Tom Sawyer in school, and I still did at home, because it is an amazing book, think of a book in it's time when you read it, not now.

marissa S.

does anyone know what book about a guy in the Korean War he is referencing at the end?

Luke

Turn the volume down on the YouTube video and listen to Malcolm weave his tapestry. This adds a nice spirit of sharp inquisition to every non-musical MasterClass. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ff_ywoNx-xk

Laurie O.

Another interesting lesson. Being a writer isn't all about writing. It's about reading, too. When I read other writers work, I often think about how they came up with their ideas, what their sources were, why they decided to write the story the way they wrote it, and even whether they liked their completed work. I think Mr. Gladwell's advice to consider the context (e.g., time and place) is straightforward and helpful. Thanks!

Alysha F.

I think the point about criticism is interesting. I view criticism and judgment as two separate things. You can be critical of someone's work without being judgmental. That is, explaining what you enjoy, what makes it interesting, and what detracts from those things. And doing that in such a way that you're not saying it's good/bad/should've been done in a different way.