by Corey Campbell
Have you ever taken an online workshop and wished you could meet up with your classmates in person? Or taken an onsite workshop and cursed the traffic the whole way there?
Now you can have the best of both formats— this spring we offer The Life Creative: A Workshop for Writers (Blended), held partly online and partly onsite. We picked the brain of instructor Jami Brandli, who tells us just what this format is all about.
Writers’ Program: What is this new blended format? And why would students want to take it?
Jami: A blended format is a class that is part online and part onsite where we all meet in a classroom on campus. For my ten-week class, we’ll be meeting onsite for the first, fifth and tenth week. The remaining weeks will be conducted online in a safe, workshop environment. A blended class is perfect for the student who has a busy life. For the classes conducted online, you do your work on your own schedule. And if that means posting your story or play at 3am, then you can post it at 3am! At the same time, you get the benefits of the hands on, face to face experience with your classmates and teacher. To me, it’s a wonderful marriage.
WP: The Life Creative—what does that mean?
Jami Brandli: It basically means finding ways of incorporating creativity into your life. We all have busy schedules, but that doesn’t mean we have to give up creating art. In my class, the main goal is give my students the space and encouragement to write, and then write some more. The class is exercise based, so the student will never feel like they’ve run out of ideas. I’ll also share some helpful tools (and tricks) they can use so they will continue to write after the class has ended.
WP: You’ve written that “pursuing a life in writing is like allowing yourself to fall in love, over and over.” How do you inspire and nurture that feeling in your students?
Jami: Falling in love is scary, but it’s also exciting because it’s all about taking risks. That’s writing. You create these characters in these situations and sometimes you have no idea what you’re supposed to do with them. That’s scary, right? But when you plant your butt in the chair and take risks by actually making them do things and feel things–all unexpected and surprising–that’s exciting. In my class, I do my best to create a safe environment where my students feel free to take these risks. If you fail the first time, that’s totally fine, as it’s not a really a failure. Be it short story or a piece of drama, every “failing” draft is a successful step toward your final.
WP: What projects will students work on in class?
Jami: The class is exercise based, and students have a choice to work on short stories or pieces of drama. Drama include short plays, monologues, or short screenplays. Students can write completely in one discipline if they choose, or they can do a combination of both. I encourage both disciplines, as fiction and drama are great bedfellows.
WP: How will this class change a student’s life?
Jami: First, they’ll have a first draft or beginnings of at least ten short stories or plays or a combination of both. That’s quite an arsenal to work on after the class has ended. And second, I hope they’ll learn how to continue to incorporate writing into their busy lives, even when they’re not in class.
WP: What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Jami: My teacher and now great friend, Steve Almond, told me I had to love my characters if I wanted the story to feel genuine. This meant loving my despicable characters and the ones I found most pathetic. At first, I resisted. I even pretended to love them at one point. But once I actually took his advice, it made sense. I’m definitely a better writer because I love my villains and losers.
WP: You’re a recent transplant from Boston. What brought you to Los Angeles? How does the literary scene here differ from Boston or the East Coast in general?
Jami: My husband, Brian Polak, and I moved to LA for the trifecta dramatic writing: Theatre, Film and TV. We’re writing partners for TV and some film projects, and we write our own plays. I also write fiction. Boston definitely has a great fiction scene, but that wasn’t enough to keep us. We’re here to, as they say, “break into the business.” So far, TV is very promising with us being finalists for the Disney ABC writing fellowship, and the theatre community has been extremely accepting. I’ve lived here for eight months and I’ve already had three productions of my short plays. I’d say the main difference between the literary scene here and the one in Boston is Boston is more focused on fiction, nonfiction and poetry while LA is focused on drama (for obvious reasons). However, I am pleasantly surprised to see that LA’s fiction community is alive and certainly kicking.
WP: How can writers and writing students balance the concerns of the marketplace versus the more personal concerns of art?
Jami: Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” I believe this applies to any piece of writing that you solely create and it should be your first concern. In a perfect world, the marketplace should come into play once you feel good about your piece. I realize that’s not always the case for certain situations, but I do believe it’s deadly to start off writing something only because you think the marketplace will want it. If you’re not into what you’re writing, it’ll definitely come through. That goes for TV, too.
WP: You write with your husband. How do you not kill each other?
Jami: Who says we don’t kill each other? Kidding. It’s simple (in theory). The marriage stays out of writing partnership. Meaning, he’s not going to bring up one of my annoying habits while we’re trying to write a scene and vice versa. But lucky for him, I don’t have any annoying habits (in theory).
WP: Anything else you’d like to add?
Jami: This interview has been great! And now I’m off to write…
The Life Creative: A Workshop for Writers (Blended) begins April 2. For more details, call (310) 825-9415 or click on the link above.