Congratulations to Claire Carmichael recipient Michael Sudmeier, winner of a two-month mentorship with Lynn Hightower as part of the Claire Carmichael Scholarship in Novel Writing! Michael’s manuscript beat out those of his five fellow scholarship recipients in the final phase of the competition, in which one manuscript is chosen based on the quality of the writing and its potential for completion and ultimate publication. I sat down with Michael to get his perspective on mentorships, experiences with the Writers’ Program, and writing in general.
Writers’ Program: What are your thoughts about the Claire Carmichael Scholarship, and your mentorship time with Lynn Hightower?
Michael Sudmeier: Through her generosity, vision, and deep commitment to teaching, Ms. Carmichael has undoubtedly shaped the lives and work of many writers. I’m humbled and honored to be one of them. And I’m incredibly grateful to her for the scholarship and mentorship opportunities that she has made possible through the Writers’ Program. During the past year, the scholarship has enabled me to work closely with professors and colleagues who continually challenge and inspire me. They have also been invaluable in helping me develop and refine my novel. I’m excited to continue this journey through a mentorship with Lynn Hightower. I feel incredibly fortunate to have taken several of her novel writing classes in the past. And needless to say, I’m eager to study under her again. Lynn has an incredible ability to help writers unearth the story they wish to tell and distill it to what truly matters. Time and time again, I’ve benefited from her insights and critiques on how to create scenes and characters that truly move a story forward. I know she will continually challenge me, strengthening both my story and my craft.
MS: My teachers and colleagues in the Writers’ Program continually inspire me. Each class provides access to a community of dedicated readers, writers, and critical thinkers. It’s a true privilege to read their work and witness its evolution. Their support and feedback are invaluable—and their passion is invigorating. Each critique leaves me excited to dive back into my novel and provides a better understanding of how to strengthen it.
WP: Have you had a favorite class taken here?
MS: Having taken nine classes through the Writers’ Program thus far, it’s tough to pick a single class as my favorite. I’ve taken a progression of novel writing classes under the guidance of Nancy Woodruff, Caroline Leavitt, Lynn Hightower, and Robert Eversz. Each instructor has been instrumental in helping me better understand my story and how to best tell it. And in strengthening my novel, they’ve also enriched my understanding of what it means to be a writer and helped me hone my craft. I’m forever grateful for their support, guidance, and faith in my story.
WP: What advice would you give someone just starting out in novel writing? What about just starting classes with the Writers’ Program?
MS: For writers about to dive into crafting their first novel, I recommend they work toward cultivating faith in their writing process. There will be plenty of days defined not by productivity and compelling storytelling but by frustration and doubt. Yet with time—and ample discipline and determination—their stories will begin to unfold. And developing a love for revising will inevitably make these stories stronger.
For writers just starting classes with the Writers’ Program, I encourage them to talk with an advisor to determine what classes best meet their needs and goals. Yet I also suggest that they simply have fun and take advantage of the range of courses UCLA offers. Lastly, I encourage them to embrace being a part of an incredible community. There’s a tremendous spirit of generosity at the foundation of the Writers’ Program. Each class provides an opportunity for a writer to focus on his or her work, yet it also affords an opportunity to help colleagues strengthen their own stories.
MS: When done well, the revision process enables you to step back from your writing in order to examine it critically and more objectively. More often than not, good writing stems not from a moment of inspiration, but from rounds and rounds of revisions. And while this can sound disheartening, such a belief can actually be liberating. After all, it allows you to embrace failure as part of the writing process. We aren’t going to conjure magic and craft compelling scenes every time we put pen to paper or start typing. Yet with patience, discipline, and determination, we can attain this through revising.
WP: Once this novel is complete, what else do you have in the pipeline? Do you plan to stick with novels or are there other forms/genres you want to explore?
MS: Although it seems a long way off, once my story is complete I would like to keep writing novels, as well as short stories. Mieke Eerkens’ class opened my eyes to flash fiction, which I would also like to write more of in the future. I’ve found that writing short fiction has enriched my novel writing. The clarity and economy that a short story demands have helped me craft tighter, more meaningful scenes in my novel.
WP: Any other thoughts?
MS: I’m humbled and honored to receive a mentorship with Lynn through the Claire Carmichael Scholarship. Several weeks before my wife gave birth to our son two summers ago, I began taking classes through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. Although our lives were about to become busier than ever, I wanted to further my commitment to writing, finally crafting the stories I had always wished to tell. Simply put, my novel would not exist without the support, generosity, and guidance of the incredible instructors at the heart of the Writers’ Program.