Getting Started with A.I. – for Real People

View the archive of my 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

View the archive of my 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

View 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

Covid-19, Aging, and the Immune System

View the archive of my live, 90-minute class and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned about aging and immunity from Covid-19 – and all we can do to continue thriving in a world that continues to be threatened by deadly pathogens.

I’m Dr. Eric Verdin. I was trained in the field of virology (focusing on HIV) and worked for several years before shifting my focus to research on the aging process about 20 years ago. I am now the President and CEO of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, located 20 minutes north of San Francisco.

I hope you’ll join me for my upcoming session, Five Things I’ve Learned about Covid-19, Aging, and the Immune System – part of my colleague Kris Rebillot’s ongoing Living Better Longer series.

As I’ll share with you, all of us at the Buck have learned a great deal about aging and the immune system in recent years, much of it directly as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, the pandemic brought the disciplines of virology and aging research together for me in a dramatic way as the risks for hospitalizations and death rose dramatically with age during the pandemic.

Now, three years after a global shut down, the death toll from Covid-19 is nearing nearly 7 million worldwide. The virus appears here to stay, but thankfully most people have resumed their normal lives – thanks to a barrier of immunity built from infections and vaccines. Still, the virus continues to spread and variants continue to pose a threat. In addition to further understanding the virus itself, research remains focused on developing treatments that block infection and/or bolster the body’s response to it. It’s clear to me that understanding aging is a key element of scientists’ ongoing effort.   

Understanding the lasting implications of this research is much of what I’ll be talking about during my conversation with Kris. Particularly, we’ll talk about how we continue to learn more about how:

  1. Aging takes a toll on immunity; even though anyone can be infected by Covid-19, I consider it a disease of aging.
  2. Lifestyle choices have a huge impact on our ability to fight infections.
  3. There will almost surely be another pandemic in our future; now is the time to address the health of our immune systems.
  4. Breakthroughs in research bode well for our ability to respond to disease outbreaks; we need to be ready to deploy the science when needed.
  5. Research on aging could be key to helping all of us get through the next crisis

I hope you’ll join us. I look forward to sharing all I’ve learned about what we all can do now to increase our chances of surviving and even thriving in a world increasingly under threat from pathogens.

-Dr. Eric Verdin

Writing about Family

View 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

The Power of a Life-Changing Vacation

View 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

View 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

Stress and Aging

View the archive of my 90-minute class and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned about the ways that transforming stress can improve you health and add years to your life.

I’m Elissa Epel. I am the Director of the Aging, Metabolism, and Emotions Center at the University of California, San Francisco where we do research on optimal aging. I study how psychosocial and behavioral factors, such as sleep, exercise, breathing practices, meditation and positive stress (yes, stress can be positive) can slow aging and promote health equity.

I’m also a writer. I co-wrote the New York Times best-seller The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Longer with with Nobel Laureate Elizabeth Blackburn, which explains from cell to society the factors that promote cell aging. My new book, The Stress Prescription, provides a simple, yet powerful plan to turn your stress into your strength, to reduce unconscious stress, and to experience deep rest states.

I hope you’ll join me, as I share the most important things I’ve learned about ways we all can live better longer in my upcoming 90-minute class, Five Things I’ve Learned about Stress and Aging.

In conversation with Kris Rebillot, I’ll share what I’ve learned about the ways that psychosocial and behavioral factors such positive stress can slow aging. I’ll also discuss the ways that self-care practices like as meditation and mindfulness training promote psychological and physiological thriving, and how large-scale interventions of these approaches might even improve well-being and health equity within communities.

What do you need to know?

  • Structural factors are invisible but powerful: Your address reveals your statistical health risks
    and life expectancy.
  • You have more control than you think: There is no monolithic chronic stress that cannot be
  • Go toward the discomfort: The sooner we recognize positive stress is our ally the better.
  • Don’t go at it alone: Social connection is more important than we can imagine.
  • Don’t forget restoration: Being overly busy can be pro-aging, deep rest is investing in longevity.

We’ll talk about this, and much more. I very much hope you’ll join us.

– Elissa Epel

What Makes Mysteries Great

View 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.

What Nature Can Teach Us About Living Longer, Healthier Lives

View the archive of my 90-minute class and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned from researching the lives of animals in the wild about human health and our own aging process.

I’m Dr. Steve Austad. For more than 40 years, I’ve devoted myself to researching the strategies developed in other species that combat fundamental aging processes. I’m the Distinguished Professor of Biology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, but I’ve also traveled the world – playing in the laboratory of nature, studying long-lived animals in the wild to learn about our own aging process.

My research is built on the hypothesis that our long-lived relatives could hold the key to our own efforts to live longer healthier lives. I look forward to sharing some of the most important things I’ve discovered with you in my upcoming class, Five Things I’ve Learned about What Nature Can teach Us About Living Longer, Healthier Lives. As I’ll explain, what I’ve learned – both in nature and in the laboratory – is remarkable.

My recent book, Methuselah’s Zoo, tells stories of our long-lived animal relatives who live extraordinarily long lives – from clams, to elephants, to tortoises, and beyond. At the heart of this book are the linked questions that drive my work: Why can’t nature, which is so successful at producing healthy adults from single fertilized eggs, do the seemingly much simpler task of keeping that adult healthy through time? Why do some animals like mice age quickly, while others – like bats, birds, whales, and people – age slower?  Why do so many animals benefit from natural aging strategies that are even better than those we humans have?

We still don’t know everything about why animals (including humans) age. But we have learned a great deal, and we’re learning more every day. In our time together, I’ll help you understand the importance of five fundamental ‘tips’ that explain some animals’ exceptional longevity in the wild:

  • Size matters – get big
  • Get a crown (no, not like British Royalty, although great healthcare has probably helped them live longer than most of us)
  • Be a bat
  • If you can’t be a bat, be a bird
  • Live cold and slow

More importantly, I’ll explain what these discoveries in nature – and what related discoveries in scientific laboratories like mine – are teaching us about ways we can successfully extend human health.

Animals have much to teach us about the ways we can live better longer. I hope you’ll join me.

– Steven Austad

What It Takes to Get Published

View the archive of my two-hour class, and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned about what agents, editors, and publishers look at when considering a new manuscript – and all they’re really looking for.

When I started in book publishing in 2000, the entire industry looked so different than it does now. We were on the cusp of figuring out how to sell ebooks, self-publishing was newly arrived on the scene and very much frowned upon by the industry, and the only audio books I listened to were clunky 8-disk volumes that I rented from the library. How times have changed!

My goal during this course is to pull back the curtain on an industry that’s little understood by its key players—writers and authors. If you want to succeed in book publishing, you must see what publishers see when they’re acquiring books. Writers and authors have a hard time accessing the information they need because the industry is famously opaque and complex and subjective. If you ask five people for advice, you’ll get five different answers. Plus, publishing has been profoundly disrupted in recent years, in ways that writers welcome and find challenging. 

All of this is why I want to spend these two hours with you—sharing what I’ve learned as an industry insider for the past twenty-plus years. I’ll share what I know about what makes authors successful from my tenure as Executive Editor of Seal Press for nine years, and now as Publisher of She Writes Press for the past ten years. I’ll challenge you to get grounded in realistic expectations about what publishing a book can do for you and how to harness the power of your book beyond simply book sales. There is so much more to being an author than just selling books! Finally, I’ll share with you what agents and editors and publishers are really looking at and looking for—and how to work with that, or around that as might need to be the case.

This class is about giving you a bird’s eye view of an industry you are a part of already if you’re an author (or intend to be). The more you know, the more you grow. I’ll lay it all out there for you in my signature transparent style—and I’ll encourage you to grab the reins of your own publishing journey and be the director of the experience that awaits you.

Please join me,

– Brooke

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