Working as a Writer

Malcolm Gladwell

Lesson time 8:21 min

Learn Malcolm’s advice for aspiring writers, including how to launch and maintain your career as a professional writer.

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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I always-- I think that if you're in the business of writing, then you're in the business of creating comparative advantage for yourself. So I always ask the question, what can I do to make sure that I'm different from everyone that I'm competing with? I-- that always should be the first question that you ask yourself, what is it about what I'm doing that will make me stand out, that will not necessarily be better-- I think that's way too high a bar. I don't even imagine that I'll be better than everybody else. But I do want to be different from everybody else. I want there to be a reason for people to turn to me. They are getting something they can't get anywhere else. So when-- when I emigrated to America, when I was 20, I was sort of aware that I was less typical, partly because I came from Canada, partly because I am biracial. And it matters more in this country. But more-- and I have consciously tried to defend my differentness now, because I realize it's very useful. I still-- I never became an American citizen, even though I've lived here now for 35 years-- in part as symbolic-- as a symbolic statement. Not because I hate America, but because it is important for what I do for me to continue to think of myself as an outsider. And so carrying a kind of Canadian passport is a symbol of that, that reminds me that that's necessary in the work I do, that people read me not-- because they want something that's unusual. They're trying-- they want to see a-- get a glimpse of a perspective different from their own. Now, not every writer, I think, necessarily represents difference in that same way. But that's what-- that's what I think the meaning of my writing is to people. And I don't think-- I think I-- I think that I can't change that. I think that's-- that is the identity I have established in the minds of those who read my work. And it's not something I should ever mess with. [MUSIC PLAYING] I was a history major in college. And the day I graduated from college, I swore that I would never set foot in another classroom again. I was done with school-- not done with learning, but done with school. And I, entirely by chance, got a job at a magazine-- a little obscure magazine in Indiana called the "American Spectator." And they sent a long form to fill out with all-- you know, essays about why this, and this is who I was. And the last question-- which you had a full page-- was, why do you want to work at the "American Spectator"? And I didn't know anything about it. And it was all a bit of a lark. So I simply wrote, doesn't everyone want to work at the "American Spectator"? And I got the job. So I went there. And I worked there for a couple of months before I got fired, because I couldn't handle the transition to a 9:00 to 5:00. Because in college I used to go to bed at like 4:00 in the morning, and wake up at 1:00 in the afternoon. And it just was too much-- couldn't. So then I went to Washington DC, where I vaguely...

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.

Malcolm Gladwell told great stories and gave some great advice about what to focus on when writing!

It is important to take a more calm approach to writing.

When Malcolm Gladwell gets going you are transported to a space where questioning everything and puzzling out the answers leads to great storytelling.

All storytelling is, at its core, about people and the human condition. Malcolm Gladwell's class is a lesson in character development for all genres.


Jennie C.

I almost speechless because his advice is so practical...the writing world is not perfect... and you must put in the hard work..but it's worth it the effort. The end product is so gratifying!


I've often wondered how time after time opinion or feature writers could quickly produce a knowledgeable article week after week. Gladwell puts it down to the virtue of growing old, i.e. writers can draw on what they've learned over the years; provided of course that age hasn't diminished or eradicated the writer's memory and knowledge base!

Naphtali S.

As with all of Mr. Gladwell's other classes, the only thing I don't like is the fact that there isn't more! Excellent material!

Ekin Ö.

Malcolm's way of advancing in the writing job is what everyone needs. People too often wait comfortably to reach a position where their hobbies will pay the bills. It doesn't work like that. You need to work sometimes without expecting any money, only to build your muscles.

Sarah S.

Given our news these days, being different or unique is even more relevant. Respecting differences has been heightened.

Julie M.

I loved the last few lessons. I am currently working as a columnist for a small community paper and then able to write other things in my spare time. I think for a long time, I thought that I had to be unemployed (and supported by someone else) or retired to write my novel. I just decided to do it. Hearing Malcolm talk about writing his first book while still working for the New Yorker was encouraging.


Very good. These last three were comforting. I also thank you for the reminder of the virtues of growing old.

Tina K.

I create mission statements, vision and goals for projects all of the time but didn't think to do a mission statement for being a writer. Duh!

Nigel R.

Several things Malcolm mentions here are very powerful ideas, and apply well to blogging to promote yourself *your ideas once published belong to your readers - they buy your ideas *what is it that I am doing that will make me stand out? *do something that catches attention—write something interesting and the system will find you *build on the knowledge that you have accumulated over time *have a day job that helps pay the bills

Chad H.

Wow - what a vulnerable moment when he speaks about what makes him different. That takes some guts.