With all the options in creative writing and screenwriting education these days, choosing a writing course or program can be a daunting task for those who want to write (and write and write some more!). Master Programs, full residency or low residency, writers conferences: what’s right for you? Many of you have heard of, or have had class with someone enrolled in, a certificate program offered through the Writers’ Program. Maybe some of you have even considered it.

Students choose the certificate program for a number of reasons, some of which include our fabulous roster of published and produced author/instructors, our pay-as-you-go approach to course fees, or our one-on-one manuscript/script consultation with a Writers’ Program instructor and the gold-seal certificate from UCLA upon completion of certificate requirements. Of course, we all know the true joy of the certificate program is not in the shiny gold-seal certificate (although it is very nice!), it’s really the process to get there: the countless revisions, edits, peer critiques, indispensible writing advice, and the friends and colleagues you keep in contact with long after class ends.

We caught up with a few recent grads of Writers’ Program Certificate Programs and picked their brains about what made them take the certificate plunge, what writing advice motivates them, and what they would say to students considering joining the ranks.

Owen Duke‘s background is in business and commercial real estate development but that didn’t stop him from signing up for two certificates in the Writers’ Program , one in Creative Writing and one in Feature Film Writing. Owen says his progress through the programs made him more aware of his writing ability. “I don’t believe I have more personality or talent as a result of the course(s) but I definitely know how to use what I have to the best advantage. I feel confident enough now to tackle any writing assignment. I feel like a writer.” Owen has had some success with a screenplay he expanded upon in a required course for the Certificate in Feature Film Writing. Recently a producer saw it, liked it, and made a deal to acquire it.

Jarrod Thalheimer, a Canadian resident who completed his creative writing certificate requirements online, gives Los Angeles its literary dues. Why did he join the program? “I wanted to gain credibility in one of the main literary communities in the world,” he says. “L.A. gets a lot of garbage tossed its way, but nowhere in the U.S. are there more people paid to write and be creative. I was determined to learn from some of them and be inspired by them.”

For Hannah Dennison, who planned on taking courses whether she published or not, the certificate program was “something to show for my writing endeavors,” she told us. Hannah did recently publish: her first novel in the series A Vicky Hill Exclusive! was released this spring by Berkley Books, an imprint of Penguin Putnam. Although she found the requisite number of units daunting at first, “The time passed quickly,” she told us. So, no need to shudder at the 36 unit requirement! It will pass before you know it.

On the journey, you can expect to refine your writing and recognize and use latent ability. Davina Colpman, who completed her creative writing certificate online from the UK, found the program’s structure helpful. She says, “There was a guiding, progressive structure to the courses where I could then hone and develop my writing skills, as well as constructively evaluate my writing and that of others.”

Jarrod used the goal of a certificate as a motivating factor and says, “I set the goal of a certificate in my mind and just kept pushing toward it. Doing this led to contacts, offers of writing work, actual paid writing work and most of all confidence. I learned to be confident of what I was doing. This aided in my (so far) modest success tremendously.”

What gave our certificate graduates so much confidence and determination? The courses for one, but also the words of wisdom their instructors offered in the courses along the way. These sayings (often taped to the side of a computer screen or around a desk) help motivate us to get something, anything, on the blank page. For Hannah it was something that instructor Claire Carmichael said that drove it home for her: Just get on with it! Straight forward and to the point. For others, it can be more of a concept. Davina’s most recent piece of writing advice came in a course taught by online instructor Alyx Dellamonica. Davina says, “As part of Alyx’s course we created a Roadmap, which is a: “compilation of thoughts, exercises, text samples, story ideas and research notes.” I found the Roadmap to be an excellent springboard for developing a writing journal. It’s been great for revealing my own writerly processes, as well as being an organized place to log those bumblebee flights of fancy that used to get lost on Post-It Notes.”

Certificate graduates are confident in their writing ability, obviously determined, and more importantly, they feel like writers. So, what would they tell students like you who are considering the certificate program? Hannah says, “If you are serious about getting published and intend to continuously enroll in UCLA Writers’ Program courses, then it makes sense to join the certificate program.” Jarrod offers these words of wisdom: “Use the certificate as a motivator. Use it as a goal. No certificate will get you a job or a career but accomplishing something tangible—like a certificate—will give you confidence and a feeling of success. I can think of nothing better in a career as difficult as writing can be.”

Whether you need structure, motivation, or inspiration, you can find it all through the Writers’ Program three certificates in Creative Writing, Feature Film Writing and Television Writing. Both the Creative Writing and Feature Film certificates can be completed online. As you plow through the required courses don’t forget all the writing advice you gather as you go. You always have room for one more Post-It on the side of the computer screen.

For more information about certificate programs offered by the Writers’ Program, contact an advisor at writers@uclaextension.edu or (310) 825-9415.

Gabrielle Stephens is the Program Assistant in Creative Writing (Online) and Events.

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