Writing, Community & Government

Getting Started as a Writer

Roxane Gay

Lesson time 12:12 min

Getting started is one of the most challenging parts of writing. Roxane gives you the right questions to ask yourself so you can begin your work.

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

Topics include: What to Write · Find Your “Why” · How to Start · Exploring Formats · Writing an Essay · Do It Anyway


[MUSIC PLAYING] - There are a lot of different ways to really figure out what you want to write, and for every writer there's a different method. Sometimes it's useful to brainstorm, to just make a list of all of the ideas that you have and all of the points you might want to cover in whatever you end up writing, and then you can figure out which you're actually going to move forward with and what you need to know and what you want to say about each of those things, and that can start to give you some direction. You can also think about, you know, what is the tone that you want to have for the piece. Is it a piece that's going to be more empathic? Is it going to be more strident? Is it going to be something that's neutral or objective? Is it going to be something that takes a definitive stand from the beginning, or is it something that starts sort of ambiguously and ends at a definitive stand? And so, really, anything will work, but you have to just always think about what your purpose. What do you want to accomplish, and what do you want to leave the reader with? The most important thing to remember when you're writing is that no one piece can accommodate everything. And sometimes when you start to think about what you want to write, you come up with 10 or 15 ideas, and you think that they all have to go in one piece because, like, this is it. This is your moment, but no they don't all have to go in one piece. You have to be able to decide. You have to be able to edit yourself and edit those ideas down into one or two ideas that you can examine in depth because depth and breadth matter, and that's how you really create substance and meaning in your work. So it really just requires you having hard conversations with yourself about what is this really about. What am I really trying to accomplish? What do I really need to say versus, like, what do I just want to say? And I think necessity really starts to help you narrow in on what you want to actually say. [MUSIC PLAYING] The primary things I ask any writer I work with, whether in the classroom or beyond, is, what is the why of this piece? And you have to have a better answer than because I lived the experience, or because everyone should know this story, or because this story is worth telling. No, really, why do you want to write it? What do you want to accomplish? What is your real purpose here? And so I try to get people to really refine the why beyond the sort of broad universal statements that are kind of trite and really get at, I want to bring attention to child care disparities in rural communities. Like, really sort of hone in on that why. Like, the heart of this is that we don't have enough social infrastructure in this country. That's the why, and sort of just keep pulling it out and pulling it out. And the more you do that, the more you start to realize, OK, these are the kinds of things that I can talk about. As you're starting to figure out ...

About the Instructor

Bestselling author, professor, and New York Times columnist Roxane Gay has connected to readers around the world with her unyielding truth-telling and highly personal feminism. In her MasterClass, she teaches you how to own your identity, hone your voice, write about trauma with care and courage, and navigate the publishing industry. Learn how to document and narrate the world as you see it—and then demand change.

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Roxane Gay

Bestselling author and cultural critic Roxane Gay teaches writing for social change and arms you with the skills needed to make an impact.

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