Getting Started with A.I. – for Real People

Join me in this 90-minute class and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned about getting started in the emerging, exciting world of artificial intelligence.

I’m Matt Strain. Most recently, I spent more than seven years in Adobe Research Lab, working as part of a team to explore the intersection of AI and creativity. The lab’s inventions enabled professionals to do things that we once never thought possible. We also invested a lot of time discussing and developing ways to promote responsible uses of technology.

In just the last six months, the pace of development has accelerated dramatically. We’re facing opportunities and challenges today that the experts predicted would take years to arrive. I hope you will join me in my live 90-minute class, Five Things I’ve Learned about Getting Started with A.I. – for Real People, as I share some of what I believe everyone needs to know to get started with the new world of artificial intelligence.

I’ll start by describing my most recent experiences creating a one-of-a-kind cocktail book – one in which all text and imagery was generated by AI. I’ll show you how I used ChatGPT and DALL-E, and how in the process I learned a lot about where we are now – and where we’re headed. Creating your own custom book is great fun. It’s something you can do, too, and I’ll explain how.

During our time together, we’ll also focus on the creative, generative ways to use AI in real life. This will include:

  • Understanding A.I.: I’ll share a simple framework for understanding the components of A.I.. We’ll also decipher the various flavors of A.I. being discussed in the press.
  • A.I. applications: I’ll share a fast look at the tools making the biggest differences today, tools that focus on text-to-text, image generation, and video generation. We’ll discuss their role as your creativity co-pilot.
  • Prompts as the new literature: I’ll explain the essential importance of crafting effective prompts to help get the most out of AI applications. You’ll come to understand why “prompt engineering” is the hot new job.
  • Risks and considerations: I’ll also try to balance the remarkable potential of A.I. with a discussion of its dark side, including mental health risks, privacy concerns, fake news, and existential threats.

As you can imagine, there’s a lot to cover. But the world of artificial intelligence is already upon us, and I’m eager to make sure each of us is positioned to use this technology as a force for good.

I hope you can join me. The focus will be on getting you knowledgeable, comfortable, and motivated to dive in. The real-life examples will inspire more creativity and productivity. If all goes well, you’ll also have a framework to evaluate and respond to the very real ethical considerations that come with these technologies.

Matt Strain

Prose Momentum – in Five Great Paragraphs

Join me in this two-hour class and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned about how great writers create remarkable movement and energy within a single paragraph – and how you can craft equally powerful building blocks within your own writing.

I’m back, for better or worse. This time to discuss what might seem like a mundane subject, the paragraph.

I mean what is there to it? It’s just a block of prose, right? But here’s the thing: I don’t think we give paragraphs enough credit. I mean what would a story be without them? They are like brief, self-contained universes. Sometimes, they are not so brief, but it’s my contention that you can look at any great paragraph, short or long, and learn a hell of a lot about how a story moves. In prose, the momentum comes from the stuff inside the paragraphs. It’s how we move things along, we carry a story from paragraph to paragraph.

I hope you’ll join me for my upcoming two-hour class, Five Things I’ve Learned about Prose Momentum – in Five Great Paragraphs. We’re going to look very closely at some magnificent paragraphs from Woolf to Faulkner, Joyce to Morrison. And other lesser knowns such as the great Canadian, Mavis Gallant, the great Mexican, Juan Rulfo, and the great Californian, Leonard Gardner.

Wait, that’s more than five. I was never good at math.

Point is, we are going to examine these paragraphs to see how they create energy. And we’re going to focus on your own paragraphs, too, and I’ll ask everybody to walk in the door with a couple of paragraphs ready to go, ones that we will take the time to re-write. And we’ll write new ones, inspired by the ones we’ve been examining.

Please join me for a closer look at what I know to be the real building blocks of great writing.

– Peter Orner

Getting Unstuck

Watch the archive of my two-hour class and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned about breaking free of the ideas, fears, and ambitions that can block creativity – and about how artists of all kinds can get back on track and back to work.

I don’t believe in “writer’s block” or “creative block.” Not because I don’t believe a creative person can get stuck, deeply stuck, and be unable to create for months or years — but because I believe “writer’s block” is always fundamentally a misdiagnosis for a number of other problems, ones with practical solutions. And no, the solution isn’t just to power through, or to abandon your project and start another. 

I’m currently working on my sixth book, but as a teacher of creative writing I’ve guided hundreds of students through stalled-out drafts, and I’ve seen – particularly over the course of a yearlong novel workshop I’ve taught for over a decade – the predictable ways that creative people can get stuck in the swamp of their own ideas and fears and ambitions. (It doesn’t help that we’re all in this because we have overactive imaginations. Those overactive imaginations can really do a number on us, telling us the worst possible stories about ourselves and our projects.) 

I’ve learned many, many things over the years about getting unstuck, and – if you’re a writer or any kind of creative person – I hope to share them with you in my live, two-hour class, Five Things I’ve Learned about Getting Unstuck.

Because I like to follow rules before I ignore them, I’ll be breaking this down into five major lessons, the key things I’ve learned after all this time:

  • We often misdiagnose craft issues as psychological issues (“I must be afraid to write”) and psychological issues as craft issues. (“Maybe this will all be better if I throw it out yet again and try it in second person plural”). We’ll talk about how a proper diagnosis of the issue at hand is the first step in finding a solution. 
  • Any artist needs to learn how to toggle, at will, between the creative brain that happily makes the art and the critical brain we all need later for editing. When the critical brain takes the driver’s seat at the wrong moment, we end up in artist hell. We’ll talk about how to strengthen the muscles that flip the switch between those two modes.
  • We can get tripped up not just on the project itself, but on how we fear or hope it will be perceived in the world. That ambition is, of course, key to being a creative person and not just someone who keeps a private notebook… We’ll talk about keeping your ambitions and fears working for you and for the project – rather than standing in your path. 
  • Many writers, and many artists of all kinds, get tripped up in worrying about the relationship of their project to the truth. This might be a concern about how to stay true to an historical narrative while still exercising creative control, or it might be a worry that friends or family will (rightly or wrongly) see themselves in your work. I have a really good trick for getting past this, and I’ll share it with you.
  • Every worthwhile artistic endeavor contains, at its heart, a cosmic impossibility. A paradox that affects the conception of the piece itself. A reason the piece cannot actually exist as envisioned. That’s a good thing. And I’ll tell you how to deal with it. 

As the things I’ve learned suggest: This class will be both philosophical and practical. I really believe that you’ll benefit from the class no matter what creative endeavor has you tied in knots. And we’ll leave plenty of time for questions. We’ll learn concrete techniques for getting over the hump, out of the rut, through the weeds, and back on track. 

Please join me. I can’t wait to see you there! 

– Rebecca Makaii

Writing about Family

Watch the archive of my two-hour class and discover Five Things I’ve Learned about the differences between real life families and the ones we invent – and how a writer might take experiences from life and transform them into fiction.

Hello everybody, I’m Meg Wolitzer, and I’d like to invite you to my class, Five Things I’ve Learned About Writing About Family.

I’ve been writing and publishing novels since I graduated from college, and over the decades since then I don’t think I’ve written a single book that isn’t in some significant way about family.

I think the word family is pretty elastic. We understand it to mean the people we’re related to, or live with, or even sometimes the people we feel closest to. Writers talk a lot about character, and of course that’s a central topic. I’ve always felt, though, that the act of putting characters who are deeply connected to one another together on the page can give a writer an opportunity to create exciting and dynamic fiction.

If you’ve ever been in a family of some kind, then you know that the moments you spend with them can be peppered with interesting and unexpected bursts of emotion, tension, revelation, or even crisis.

We’ll be talking about all of that. How something might happen in real life, and how it might happen on the page. What’s different between real life families and the ones we invent. How a writer might take experiences from life and transform them into fiction.

And we’ll also be doing a couple of short exercises in advance, and I’ll have a chance to read some of them aloud during the class and respond to what you’ve written.

So whether you’re someone who wants to write, or who loves to read, or who thinks their own family sometimes feels a little bit like people in a short story or even a novel, I think you’ll find something here for you.

And I should add that I’m definitely going to leave time at the end to answer some of your pressing questions about craft, story, character, dialogue, humor, anything you like.

I’m really excited about this class, and I hope you can join me.

– Meg Wolitzer

How to Make Writing Better

Join me in this live two-hour class and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned about the roll-up-your-sleeves-and-do-the-work work that makes writing more effective, clearer, and sharper.

For the last thirty years I’ve worked to help writers make their writing better: first as a freelance proofreader and copy editor, then as an in-house production editor and eventually the copy chief of Random House, and more recently as the author of Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style

I’ve been fascinated by the written word ever since the magical moment I figured out, as a late-stage toddler, how to read, and if you share that fascination I hope you’ll find enlightenment and practical advice in my Five Things I’ve Learned About talk. 

In this two-hour live class I’m going to dig deep into my bag of tricks and offer up ways that you, as a writer, can make your writing more effective, clearer, and sharper, including: 

• how the simple act of reading your writing aloud will reveal its virtues and weaknesses (and what to do after the revelation)

• how to free yourself of the dreaded nonrules of prose

• how to stop being afraid of semicolons and adverbs

• how to carve away the fat with which we all clog up our writing 

Along the way I’ll also show you, in the most practical nuts-and-bolts way, why some great passages of writing are indeed great, and share with you what I’ve learned over the years works and doesn’t work in the dance between copy editor and writer. What I’ve learned matters most is paying attention to what a writer is doing so that your every edit demonstrates that you’re trying to support rather than distort their writing. Listen before you fix. (And maybe that’s a life lesson that goes beyond writing.) 

To whatever extent writing is part inspiration and part alchemy, it’s also roll-up-your-sleeves-and-do-the-work work, and that’s where I come in. 

I’m sure you’ve been carrying around myriad questions (or is it a myriad of questions?) about how to do this in your writing and how not to do that, so please ask away. 

I do hope you’ll join me,

– Benjamin Dreyer

The Power of a Life-Changing Vacation

Watch the archive of my 90-minute class and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned about the ways in which new places and experiences teach us that the person we are at home isn’t the only being we can, or should, be.

I started traveling at the age of four months when my guidebook writing parents took me to Europe while they updated that year’s edition of Europe on $5 a Day.

I haven’t slowed down since, and have been blessed to make a life of sharing my experiences and love of travel with others in our family business. I’ve written and edited best-selling books, written thousands of articles, and appeared on countless radio and TV broadcasts. My podcast “The Frommer’s Travel Show” was recently named one of the 13 best for travel by the New York Times.

What have I learned most from a lifetime of new places and experiences?

When we travel, we not only discover the world, but we reintroduce ourselves to ourselves. We learn that the person we are at home isn’t the only being we can, or should, be. With each mile we traverse, we have the opportunity to grow, to change, to deepen.

But to have these types of revelatory experiences on the road, we need to travel to the types of places that will spark our imaginations, and we need to do so in a way that will open us up to the world. On a practical note, we need to keep our costs in line, so that financial concerns don’t undermine the joy of exploration.

Please join me for my upcoming class, Five Things I’ve Learned about the Power of a Life-Changing Vacation, and I’ll share with you what I believe to be the most essential conclusions from my own lifetime of travel:

  • Five destinations you may not have considered, but that can be the basis for life changing vacations.
  • Five great thinkers who hit the road, and what they took away from the experience.
  • Five types of travel that can introduce you to wonderful people, help you travel more sustainably, and add meaning to your journeying.
  • Some top travel trends, new tools for travel planning and booking, and the mind games the travel industry plays (and how not to get suckered in).

I also hope that you’ll pepper me with specific questions about your upcoming travel plans in the course of our 90 minutes together, so that we can put into practice some of the strategies I’ll cover. When we’re done,  I think you’ll have the tools to craft trips that are cost effective and, more importantly, meaningful adventures.

See you soon!

– Pauline Frommer

Where Stories Come From

Watch the archive of my two-hour class and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned about the powerful emotions that serve as the engines of our storytelling – and about the ways that these emotions show up in literature, shape our writing, and inform our lives.

I’m Steve Almond. I’m a writer and teacher.

Three decades ago, when I left journalism to pursue an MFA in fiction, I was obsessed with the idea that I was going to become a Writer—capital W. I was sure that I had been summoned to this calling; that all the exalted words bubbling around inside me would come pouring out, in the form of scripture.

That is not what happened. Instead, I spent years writing self-indulgent dreck, none of which (thankfully) was ever published.

It took a long time, but I eventually realized that my destiny wasn’t to be a Writer. It was to be a storyteller. Beyond my infatuation with language was the fundamental, and universal, need to make sense of the world around me, and inside me, through story.

This impulse has guided my career, inspired me to write a dozen books of fiction and non-fiction, to write essays and reviews for the New York Times Magazine, to launch the podcast Dear Sugars with my pal Cheryl Strayed, to serve as a literary correspondent for NPR, and host storytelling events for The Moth.

As a teacher of writing, I’ve encountered this yearning over and over: my students arrive desperate to locate the stories they are meant to tell, to pluck meaning from the rush of their experiences, to bear witness to their lives and honor their imaginations.

This is not as easy as it sounds. Because there are almost always deep psychological and emotional anxieties that hold us back from telling those stories. We fear exposing ourselves to readers, exposing our loved ones, unleashing the chaos and pain we most often carry in silence. If you’re anything like me, you spend a long time looking in the wrong places, too.

In this two-hour class we’ll talk about the five emotional states that are the central engines of storytelling: Obsession, Desire, Doubt, Rage, and Mercy. We’ll look at how each of these powerful emotions shows up in literature, and how they show up in our own lives. And we’ll try our hand at an in-class exercise that will allow us to learn by doing.

I hope you’ll join me for Five Things I’ve Learned about Where Stories Come From.

I look forward to our time together,

– Steve Almond

The Art of Brevity

Watch the archive of my two-hour class and discover why less can be more in your creative writing, and how you can apply the principles and aesthetic of brevity to anything from a short story to a novel that contains thousands and thousands of words.

I’m Grant Faulkner, and I want to invite you to my upcoming two-hour class, Five Things I’ve Learned about the Art of Brevity.

How did a writer (me) immersed in a lifelong training regimen to be a novelist find his aesthetic (and find himself) in brevity?

Like many, when I first became a writer, I thought the end goal of writing was that big behemoth of a saga called the “Great American Novel.” I found myself working on a long novel for nearly 10 years when I surreptitiously discovered 100-word stories and decided to take a break from my longer work and replenish my creativity by writing shorter pieces that would give me the satisfaction of completion and the momentum of publishing them.

I learned that the short form is beguiling. Since it’s so short, it would seem to be easier, but in my initial forays I couldn’t come anywhere close to the one-hundred-word mark. At best, I could chisel a story down to 150 words, and I was so frustrated by the gobs of material I’d left out that I didn’t see a way to go farther. A mentor chided me to keep going farther, to trust that my story would actually get better as I cut it down. 

I’d trained myself to write through backstories, layers of details, and thickets of connections, but the more I pared my prose to reach 100 words, a different kind of storytelling presented itself. The art of brevity. The art of excision. The art of compression. The art of omission. The art of spaces and gaps and breaths. The art of less

Such an art finds itself at the center of flash fiction, which is defined as a story under a thousand words and goes by many names, including “short-shorts,” “miniatures,” “sudden fiction,” “hint fiction,” “postcard fiction,” and “post-it fiction,” among others. Flash communicates via caesuras and crevices. There is no asking more, no premise of comprehensiveness, because flash fiction is a form that privileges excision over agglomeration, adhering more than any other narrative form to Ernest Hemingway’s famous iceberg dictum: only show the top one-eighth of your story and leave the rest below water to be conjured. 

Novelists are taught to strap together crisscrossing tentacles of story lines and fill the capacious spaces of a novel’s pages with layers of details—to write with a sense of expanding, of putting bulk on a story’s bones—but writers need to know how to construct a story with less just as much as they need to know how to build a story with more. Life consists largely of isolated, disconnected moments. We live within what goes unsaid as much as what is said, so many stories demand to be told with less—of everything. To reveal a character’s essence through hints. To build suspense not through connections, but by what is left out. To let the reader fill in the gaps of a story by following a trail of implications.

In Five Things I’ve Learned about the Art of Brevity, I’ll discuss the style, the aesthetic, the discipline, and the craft of brevity. To write shorter pieces seems like it should be easier on the surface, but it’s not. With increased compression, every word, every sentence matters more. A writer has to learn how to privilege succinctness over any notion of comprehensiveness, to form narratives around caesuras and crevices instead of strings of connections, to move a story through symbolic weight.

In particular, here are five things I’ll discuss: 

  • Omission: how a story works with silences and the use of white space can work to enhance and amplify a story. 

  • Concision: how a writer must be like a master pruner, minimizing context, eliminating backstory, snipping connective tissue to allow a story to grow. 
A different type of creativity emerges within a hard compositional limit.
  • Structure: how to plot in such a short form, to include only the essential elements of a story; how miniatures can hold a different kind of expansiveness, a “bigness” created by the suggestiveness of the smaller form.
  • Collage: how brevity invites in elliptical contours that allow a story to be told through the amorphous structure of a collage, and how it invites in different forms, such as the “found object” of a to-do list, a letter of complaint, or an online review. 

  • Longer forms: how brevity works in longer forms, such as the novella and the “flash novel.” 

My aim is that you’ll will leave this workshop steeped in ideas of how less can be more, and you’ll be ready to apply the principles and aesthetic of brevity to anything from a short story that is 100 words to a novel that is thousands of words.

I hope you’ll join me.

-Grant Faulkner

What Makes Mysteries Great

Watch the archive of my two-hour class and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned about the essential elements of a great mystery, and the rewards they make possible for readers and writers.

Why write a Mystery novel?  

I’ve been a published author for thirty years. I’ve won major awards and made all kinds of Bestseller lists. So why do I stay with the mystery genre? Is there something unique that a mystery offers the writer – things I can do within the genre that I couldn’t do in mainstream fiction? For that matter, why have award-winning mainstream novelists like Kate Atkinson or Michael Chabon or John Banville turned to crime?

I’m also a lifelong reader, one of the many who gravitate toward the shelves marked Mystery – and it’s definitely not because I’m looking for a book that I’ve read dozens of times before.

I head to the Mystery section because it’s where I’ll find the very opposite of formulaic. It’s where I’ll discover stories that are playful, or tough, or odd, or sparkling with insight. Stories that are unexpected, or troubling, or goofy, or offer a window into the past (and thus, the present.) Stories that are, from their opening scene to their closing sentence, human. 

I am perpetually fascinated by what my fellow writers manage do with the mystery genre – and endlessly curious about where I might go next with my own mysteries. But one thing for sure: I plan to stay with the genre, because the Mystery

…has structure. Wherever a story may be on the mystery spectrum, from the coziest of amateur sleuths to the most pulse-raising thriller, there are rules and conventions. I see these as the bones of a skeleton, with all kinds of bodies built around them.

…is subversive. A paperback entertainment can deliver weighty social comment. A frivolous distraction in a bright cover may leave its reader with a dose of introspection. Crime can be sneaky.

…has vivid characters. Characters only come alive when they grapple with challenges. A compelling character is one whose struggles the reader has followed—and what challenge could be more powerful than a murder?

…is where a reader and writer meet up. A mystery writer is always conscious of the reader. I deliberately shape my stories to baffle, mislead, and startle the person at the far end of the process. And when writing a series novel, I am very aware I am not the only family my characters have. My relationship with my reader is playful, serious, and (one hopes) long-term.  

…has an end. A mystery must have a solution, be it perky/neat or grimy/noir. The way the story wraps up needs to be intellectually and emotionally satisfying.

This two-hour Five Things I’ve Learned classis built around points of craft, but it centers around the larger question, What is the purpose of a mystery—why do we do the modern equivalent of huddling around the campfire listening to them? 

For the reader, our time together will give a chance to listen to the creator of a string of enormously popular characters reflect on why she’s spent so much of her life telling these kinds of stories.

For the writer, it’s a chance to look over the shoulder of a bestselling MWA Grand Master and hear her talk about how she’s done it: what five key tenets of the genre are, why certain rules came into being, and how you should—and maybe shouldn’t—break them.

I love what I do, and I hope you join me for Five Things I’ve Learned about What Makes the Mystery Great.

The Longevity Economy

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