“You kind of eye each other like two fighters in a ring for the first time and the next thing you know, you’re in a bar like you’ve been drinking buddies your whole life.”

So says Stuart Schooler, current student in the Master Class in Novel Writing (Online/Low-residency) upon meeting his classmates in person for the first time.

What is a Master Class? You ask.

The Writers’ Program’s Master Class in Novel Writing is a nine-month, three-quarter, 30-meeting adventure designed to give novelists a small supportive group (up to 8 students) to help them polish their novel manuscripts.

I highly recommend the course to all writers who have a first draft finished and ready for polishing,” Stuart’s classmate, fellow novelist Olfet Agrama, says.

How does a Master Class work? To participate, students must submit a rough manuscript by the deadline and then be chosen by the instructor. (Consider this a giant step beyond the Writers’ Program’s 10-week advanced courses.)

Once in, students workshop with the same small cohort from fall until the following summer, emerging at the end with a strong, polished book. At the very end, an agent reads an excerpt of each book and may decide to pursue a contract. (It has happened! See our story on student Hannah Dennison in the web feature archives.)

In fall 2009, the Writers’ Program unleashed a new Master Class model: “Online/Low-residency”. Instead of meeting on campus once a week, online/low-res students workshop online together for nine months and then converge upon Westwood in March for a four-day face to face residency.

The inaugural residency just ended and was a tornado of activity: four days of workshopping with instructor Lynn Hightower, two round table discussions with agents, a student reading at the bookstore Book Soup in Los Angeles (yes, in front of the public!), not to mention a pizza party and plenty of bonding time outside the classroom.

Stuart and Olfet are two-thirds of the way through their Master Class. How is it all shaping up?

Writers’ Program: Where are you right now in your novel, and what do you hope to have achieved by the time the course ends?

Stuart: I’ve finished the novel and am editing to pull together loose threads of the character journey and of the various story lines. My unrealistic ambition is to have a detailed rewrite plan by the end of the class.

Olfet: I am rewriting and re-editing. I think the organization is tighter and the characters are more interesting.

WP: What was it like meeting classmates in person after working online with them for months?

Olfet: I enjoyed very much the face to face encounter with my fellow writers and of course with the teacher. I really enjoyed when we all [focused] on each others’ outlines and made suggestions to improve the overall flow. I made new friends and felt more comfortable with my classmates.

Stuart: It was your typical bonding experience.

WP: And the reading at Book Soup?

Olfet: The reading was a wonderful experience. It wasn’t as scary as I had expected because of the support of the teacher and my fellow writers.

Stuart: Do it again!

WP: In what ways have you grown as writers since starting the Master Class last fall?

Stuart: It’s always been scary not knowing what you don’t know. Ignorance is Bliss (also the name of my first dog). I now understand all the things I don’t know and it’s even more foreboding than I thought.

Olfet: I have a clearer vision of what my novel will be.

WP: Last words?

Stuart: The highlight was how really, really productive we were.

And with another three months to go, imagine the possibilities! We can’t wait to see how far they’ll take their novels.

Planning is now underway for the 2010-11 Master Classes. This fall we’ll offer four: Master Class in Novel Writing (Online/Low-residency), Master Class in Novel Writing (Onsite), Master Class in Feature Film Writing (Onsite), and Master Class in Half-Hour Television Pilot Writing (Onsite). A brochure will be available this summer on the Writers’ Program website. Or email writers@uclaextension.edu to add your name to the mailing list. Submissions are due in September, so get cracking on those scripts and manuscripts.

Corey Campbell is the Program Representative in Creative Writing (Online).

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