Walter Mosley Has a Lot to Say About Living a Great Life in His New MasterClass
And even more about the importance of failure
A few years ago, I read author Walter Mosley’s book, This Year You Write Your Novel.
Not that year. Not since.
But I did fall in love with Walter Mosley. His generosity. His patience. His insights. In his seemingly typical how-to-write-your-novel book, a spirit of understanding oozed off the pages. Instead of just another rule-ridden collection of all the things writers “must do,” the book advised writers to go out and live a life, let ideas percolate, learn to take rejection and dare to fail. He was the writing teacher I always hoped I would find some day.
Fast forward a couple of years and I started reading his mystery novel series featuring private detective Easy Rawlins, starting with Devil in a Blue Dress. True confessions: I watched the movie and, after savoring the thing of beauty that is Denzel Washington in that film, I had to read the book. The next two installments in the series got me through some long plane rides, and now I automatically default to a new Rawlins mystery whenever I have leisure time to savor a good story.
So, when I saw MasterClass was now offering a course taught by my favorite writing teacher who I have never met, I settled in for a lovely afternoon with a man who feels like an old friend.
Sure enough, the course is filled with great wisdom and dishy stories that emanate from a career that includes 60 novels and spans an enormous range of genres. In the section entitled “Surviving the Writing Industry,” he suggests we learn to take rejection in the same way an aspiring boxer friend was advised to endure pain: “If you don’t want to get hit, you shouldn’t be in boxing,” his trainer told him.” “Maybe you should get into some new sport called ‘hitting’.” Mosley admits that he still faces disappointment occasionally: his 53rd novel was rejected 17 times before he found a publisher.
Mosley saves his most precious wisdom for the last few modules of the class where he reveals his deep passion for his craft and a belief that it can transform the human experience.
But Mosley saves his most precious wisdom for the last few modules of the class where he reveals his deep passion for his craft and a belief that it can transform the human experience. By finishing a novel, we will be transformed through the process of completing a work of art, he says. As we struggle to shape a character or to get an emotion across to an audience, we learn more about ourselves.
“The ability to stop and think about something in great detail — it’s something we never do in everyday life,” Mosley explains. “The ability to do that makes you a better person. Certainly a deeper person.”
Inside each of us, he believes, is another personality who is smarter, funnier, and more creative than we ever will be.
“The more you write, Mosley explains . . . you become more talented and capable and you are able to control things about yourself that your whole life you have tamped down because they have frightened you.”
“The more you write, Mosley explains, “the more that internal person is going to gain influence and size and ability. The more you come into relation to that person, you become more talented and capable and you are able to control things about yourself that your whole life you have tamped down because they have frightened you.”
I had to pause and rewind that section several times to absorb the incredible insight. What an act of radical teaching: encouraging us to use writing to master our thoughts and feelings while creating something bigger than ourselves. It doesn’t matter if you are a ravenous reader or if you graduated from college or if you never sell a book. In Mosley’s world, becoming a creator will change you.
In the final module of the MasterClass, “Living a Creative Life,” Mosley describes how creativity is essential to being human. Since childhood he has sketched and drawn and painted, but no one has ever wanted to buy his work (that may be different now that his artwork is featured on his website). But through the creation of more than 50 years and thousands of pages, he found his voice as a visual artist.
“My drawing is an abstract form of my writing,” he says, adding “you will never create better than when you do it just for yourself.”
“Being an artist is a deep commitment that promises happiness and heartbreak.”
Mosley considers himself lucky that he doesn’t have the hubris of an author who enjoyed early fame and success. Failure, he says, has taught him a lot. “Failure is at the heart of all art,” he claims, and from experiencing it, writers learn to “figure it out” and “advance and advance and advance.”
“Being an artist is a deep commitment that promises happiness and heartbreak,” he says at the end of the class. “The Russian Army lost every battle with the Germans and still won the war. That’s courage. That’s bravery.”
Keep at it. Be brave. Fail. Grow bigger. That’s not just brilliant advice for writers; it’s counsel we can all use.
More about Walter Mosley:
See more of Walter Mosley’s art
Take his MasterClass at www.MasterClass.com