The UCLA Writers Fair and a Review of UCLA's On-line Courses for Writers
Karin delaPena -- September 23, 2005
Karin delaPena reports from the UCLA Writers Fair last weekend and provides insight in to a different way of learning the craft -- one she says has advantages over traditional workshops.
Los Angeles Traffic! I made only the last two sessions of the UCLA Writers Fair. The first was a panel blowing the whistle on the myth of writer's block. Good advice worth hearing again. Unless you're the exception to the rule, writing for the same number of hours at the same time every day, including holidays, is something to aspire to -- an aspiration that may never be met. So, for those of us more mortal souls, it was reassuring to hear from the author who regularly puts her work aside when the spirit doesn't move her enough. And she still gets stuff published.
The most useful reminder for me was that, when you get stuck, start to write bios of each of the characters, and let them push you in the 'write' direction.
The other session I listened to was the final one of the event: how to write humor. Again, nothing new to that: write short, punchy sentences. Don't over-explain. Write the absolute, rawest truth about a situation, and there's a 50-50 chance that what you think is at best factual and possibly interesting will, by it's simple adherence to the naked truth of being human, often prove hysterical.
Great information, but mostly, it was just a wonderful forty minutes of riffs, silliness, and pleasure.
Now what I really want to say is what drew me to the conference in the first place.
It was to have dinner with a friend, Lisa Dale Norton, the woman from whom I'd taken two semesters of a UCLA memoir course, who had come to the Writer's Fair to sit on a panel. Yes, she is a fine and rigorous teacher. Yes, she is also a fine and courageous writer.
Lisa Dale Norton
The revelation for me, though, was the way in which the class was conducted. It was all on-line. Although I now know Lisa, when I took the course I'd never set eyes on her, nor heard her speaking voice. The same was true of all of my class mates. The entire class was conducted on-line.
We did the class exercises, commented on each others' work, and got copious and detailed feed-back from Lisa and from everyone else in the class. Lisa made student feedback on each others' work mandatory, and monitored what we said and how we said it to each other.
I am now a huge fan of this method of teaching. Our writing had to stand entirely on its own. How a person looked, behaved, or sounded -- i.e. how pleasurable or otherwise it was to hear them read their work out loud -- never entered into it. The simple, two-dimensional, black-on-whiteness of the writing was all that counted. And -- a huge couple of 'ands' -- you could meet your class deadlines from anywhere in the world where you could find an internet connection. You could also be at your computer -- effectively in class -- at any time of the day or night. Hugely freeing.
In the case of Lisa, anyway, each student probably got heaps more personal teacher feedback than is usually possibly in a classroom environment, with all the inherent distractions.
I can't swear this would be the case for every on-line writing class, though I'm willing to bet it would be where UCLA extension is concerned. I've never heard anything but raves about their teachers.
Oh, and another thing... you can read the teachers comments! Many's the time I've squinted in frustration at the unintelligible scrawl that a teacher has passed off as a comment on a paper I've submitted.
Give it a whirl. It'll give you a huge bang for your buck.