Will Spollen ’23

Masterclass Malcolm Gladwell Teaches Writing, Professional Development Course

This summer, I enrolled in the Malcolm Gladwell Masterclass—an online intimate class on various topics taught by Malcolm Gladwell, an accomplished writer who has authored Blink and Outliers in addition to numerous other popular works of nonfiction. In Gladwell’s masterclass, he teaches his students how to improve their own nonfiction writing.

Through this course, I’ve become more confident in my ability to produce interesting, readable material—I’ve realized that there are not nearly as many roadblocks to creating good material as I thought there was. Some of the most helpful tips I gathered from this class involved research and structuring the story. Gladwell says that although it may be the first place people go to research a topic, the internet is often the worst place to go if you want to gather information for writing an interesting story. This is because search engines like Google are built to show articles/websites that are popular (or, what everyone else is already looking at)—so it won’t help you to write something groundbreaking or innovative. In addition, these search engines also will tend to lead you down a rabbit hole according to your previous interests—in other words, it doesn’t allow you to jump too far outside of your comfort zone. But this is by no means the only option—Gladwell suggests that instead of the internet, fledgling writers venture to the library. Through looking at books in the vicinity of a book they already find interesting, or through “following the footnotes” of that book, they can find fresh material to breathe new life into their writing. Another tip I found helpful was that transitions and conclusions don’t have to be perfect. If you’re done talking about something and now want to talk about something different, you don’t have to explicitly tie those topics together—you may just start a new section with a new sub-heading. For me, this was incredibly liberating, as I often labor for unnecessarily long periods of time trying to figure out how to make two pieces “fit.”

I feel that this course will immediately benefit me by making writing intensive classes at Williams seem less intimidating, and thus perform better in those classes. My new-found knowledge has also encouraged me to pursue more non-academic writing. Although I plan on attending medical school, with becoming a doctor as my career goal; I would also like to have some sort of writing pursuit in my life as well—something like what Oliver Sacks (a famous neurologist and writer) was able to do—though achieving an equal magnitude of success seems like a pipe dream as of now. I think that this course will make me much more competent in that regard.

I’d like to thank both the ’68 Center for Career Exploration and the Estate of Bruce C. Davey—I appreciate your support in my journey to become a better writer!