Finding time to write can be a challenge. Work, commuting, friends, family–writing often takes a backseat to other commitments, not to mention biological needs like, say, sleep and food. Sometimes making time to write feels like trying to fit in 30 minutes on the treadmill—you know you’ll feel great once you get started, but there’s just so much else to do. “How can I find time to finish my short story,” you may ask yourself, “when I can’t even stay awake through a full episode of Lost?” “Is it possible to write a beat sheet while driving?” “Does my boss notice the brainstorming pad I keep next to my desk?”
While we might not be able to answer these questions (although, take it from us, trying to operate a laptop while driving is not advisable), we can provide some inspiration in the form of a fellow student’s success. Joyce Sachs, who struggled for years to find time to write, started taking courses with the Writers’ Program in 2000, and has completed 20 to date. The veteran English teacher saw her lifelong passion for writing come to fruition in 2006 when her play EQUINOX was produced at the Odyssey Theater. A second production will begin in July at The Grove Theater in Burbank. Intrigued by her dedication, I decided to chat with Joyce about her life, the craft of writing, and the Writers’ Program.
Tell us a bit about your background and what prompted you to start taking writing classes.
My academic background includes a degree in English from Northwestern. I taught English for thirty years, and the last ten were devoted to Advanced Placement and Honors Courses, mainly for seniors.
I always wanted to write a novel based on the Bloomsbury Group. Summers provided time for research, but when fall came, twenty to forty essays a night did not leave much time for writing. I took writing workshops at the University of Alabama, when we were living there, and had such visiting teachers as Larry Michaels, Philip Levine and Max Apple, and as a result had a few of my poems and a short story published in small magazines.
In LA, I was the faculty sponsor of our school’s literary magazine, which was a very rewarding experience, as working with young and sensitive writers always is. I retired from teaching in 2000 in order to pursue writing.
How have your Writers’ Program classes changed your writing experience?
As a teacher, I was always sitting in the front of the class, the final judge and critic of each student’s efforts–a role that provided much learning and soul searching on my part. Returning as a student to the Writers’ Program put me on the other side of the desk. Could I be a learner once more? Would I be accepted in the classroom after all these years? I found support not only from my teachers but also from my fellow writers. My teachers, whether in short workshops or quarter long courses, provided inspiration, discipline and expertise. My classmates encouraged me and I made friendships and received professional support from so many that the list is too long to mention by name. My writing has broadened to other genres, a result that has been fruitful and exciting.
Which instructors have you particularly enjoyed or have been especially influential for you?
I started with Rowland Barber, a year before his retirement, for my first novel writing class. His warmth and wisdom provided the basis for me to keep on going with my Bloomsbury novel, but he suggested that I might have a flair for dramatic writing.
I continued writing with Les Plesko and under his excellent tutelage completed the novel. I then took drama courses with Leon Martell who provided the rudiments of dramatic writing in an atmosphere of rigor and support. I continued with courses under Simon Levy, who inspired and diligently created the final push to finish my play, EQUINOX. All of these instructors were always available, honestly candid, and dedicated to each and every one of us.
What role does writing play in your life and how has writing changed your life?
I write everyday. I found a discipline within myself that I would never have found without the courses I have taken and still take. Besides my four children and six grandchildren, writing has become the dominant interest and challenge of my life. I have found that only through self critical thought–writing, rewriting, and editing–can the promise of good writing really take place. Sometimes I reread my teachers and fellow classmates’ editorial suggestions and comments on past work to help me over some persistent stumbling blocks. They remain helpful no matter how long ago I took the classes. I throw nothing I write away. Sometimes a line or two might ring true for a current piece of work.
Tell us a bit about what you’re working on now.
In Les Plesko’s classes I am currently working on another historical novel based on a relative of my husband, Tilly Losch, a Viennese dancer, choreographer and actress. I visited the University of New York at Binghamton, where I studied her diaries and letters, much in the same way I wrote EQUINOX, my play. Now I am cutting loose from the facts of her life and just writing.
I started a memoir writing class at my granddaughter’s school last summer. It has been rewarding to sit with a group–ages ranging from their fifties to eighties, men and women–and write about our experiences. Maureen Murdoch’s recent weekend workshop was amazing not only in its composition, but remarkable for its organization and inspired leadership. It taught me many things I can bring to a wider community. That in itself is a remarkable part of the UCLA Extension writing experience.
You mentioned on the phone that one of your plays is being produced. How did that come about and what is it like to see your work performed on the stage?
EQUINOX was produced at the Odyssey Theatre in spring of 2006. I was delighted with it. The set, lighting and costumes were nominated and won a few awards. It was listed on the recommended list during its run. Who could ask for more? But the sense of completing a long desired goal through the joy of classes and instruction has added much more to my life than just a production. Now it will be produced at The Grove Theater in Burbank under the direction of Keith Cochran, who will bring new ideas to it, I’m sure. It will run from July 10th to August 5th (hint, hint). The point is, my work is always a work in progress.
What is your favorite thing about the Writers’ Program?
Let me get very personal here. When I drive those freeways at night back and forth from Encino, I always question my ability to do so. I feel blessed that I can and will continue to do so. What I experience when I arrive at my classes is a renewal of energy and fellowship and the promise of more to come. If I have to take a cab one of these days, I will. Just taking UCLA Extension Writers’ Program classes adds productive years to my life.
Katy Flaherty is the Administrative Assistant for the Writers’ Program. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.