So, you’ve finally written your masterpiece. After months, years, or even decades of hard work, of toiling to bring together plot, character, dialogue, and language on the page, you can finally step back and take a deep breath. Except, wait, no you can’t. The road between completing a draft of your work and getting it out into the world can be long and arduous, with no guarantee of success at the end.
Maybe you don’t have to go it alone…
Last summer, aspiring writers from all over California and beyond converged on the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program in hopes of being among those few selected to take part in one of three Master Classes. The chosen 24 spent the next nine months of their lives tearing apart, revising, and rebuilding the manuscripts and scripts they hope to one day share with the world .
But these are no ordinary classes and neither are they for the faint of heart. Over the course of thirty weeks, these students had every favorite line, each cherished plot turn questioned.
“You have to become an artistic community,” says Samantha Dunn, instructor for the Master Class in Memoir Writing that just came to its conclusion on June 12th. “[The class] requires not only complete dedication to your own work for the better part of a year, but to the well being and development of seven other writers.”
“A writer needs community, feedback, mentoring, and direction,” echoes Leslie Schwartz, who led the recently completed Master Class in Novel Writing. “Especially when it comes to the most challenging aspect of completing a novel: revision.”
Master Class in Feature Film instructor Tom Lazarus chimes in: “Any writers contemplating taking a master class should be dedicated, focused, creative, open, thick-skinned, and strong, all the qualities it takes to be a professional screenwriter.”
It comes as no surprise, then, which facet of these classes students found both most demanding and satisfying:
“The most challenging aspect was, of course, when the writing you’ve brought to class just doesn’t work and people were very honest about that,” says feature film student Debra Barr. “On the plus side, when the writing DID work, I know my fellow students and the instructor were being honest then, too.”
Novel student Amber Wynn agrees: “When you’re married to your baby (your words, your characters, your plots, etc.) it’s challenging to be told “this doesn’t work” or “you need to fix your structure” or the million things a student hears in the 9 months in the class. It’s hard! But my experience is that we are all writers, and we understand how it feels to be in the hot seat, listening to people deconstruct your baby. It’s coming from a place of love, and from the understanding that this is a safe place for it to happen.”
Of course, all that hard work came with a few benefits.
Master class students had the opportunity to enroll for free in all one-day courses offered by the Writers’ Program during the length of their courses, and they were guaranteed entry into the UCLA Extension Screenplay Competition or the James Kirkwood Literary Awards at no charge. And most beneficially, this September, a few short months after all three classes finish up, students will get the chance to have their manuscript or screenplay read by an established agent or manager.
Just as these three classes end, however, two more will soon begin. This fall, the Writers’ Program will be offering a brand new Master Class in Novel Writing with instructor Les Plesko and a Master Class in Feature Film with Billy Mernit. Billy and Les have both been teaching novel writing with the Program for over ten years and received the UCLA Extension Outstanding Instructor Award in Creative Writing in 2001 and 2002, respectively.
“We evaluate individual works-in-progress in the context of each writer’s unique voice and style,” Les says of the class. “From sentences to paragraphs to pages to chapters to the manuscript as a whole, guiding each other toward assembling the inseparable elements that make for good fiction.”
“If you’ve got something to say, the Master Class offers you a safe place where you’ll be able to figure out the most effective way to say it,” says Billy. “And there’s no room for ‘I can’t,’ especially when we’re all in it together and everyone’s invested in your story.”
So, think you’ve got what it takes? Are you ready to take the newly completed draft of your novel or screenplay and polish it into something that will make it onto the shelves of your favorite bookstore or the screen of your neighborhood movie theatre?
“The class will likely challenge you in ways you can’t even imagine right now, that’s why you have to make sure you go into it with as much preparation and openness as possible to optimize the big investment of time and money it demands,” advises Samantha.
Don’t let that scare you, though.
“I took the class because I decided I wanted to ‘do something’ to move myself closer to accomplishing my dream – and the reward has been pure personal joy, fulfillment, and a sense of accomplishment,” says Amber.
“It IS a lot of continuous hard work, but if you’re dedicated and really work at it, the results will be richly rewarding,” says feature film student Robert Dorian. “I love the work I produced and couldn’t be happier.”
Memoir student Lupe Fernandez puts it more succinctly:
“I miss Sam Dunn already.”
Daniel Sanchez is a program assistant in the Writers’ Program.