For those Writers’ Program students in the midst of the Novel Writing sequence, the journey from Novel Writing I to Novel Writing V offers invaluable opportunities to refine craft, polish storylines, and prepare for the marketplace. Plus, workshopping your scenes with your instructor and fellow students saves you from having your protagonist cross the Brooklyn Bridge into Queens, drink Coca-Cola in 1970’s Russia, or discuss his cat for ten pages. (Extra points for anyone who can make that work!)
Luckily, award-winning Writers’ Program instructor Claire Carmichael is waiting to help students successfully navigate the end of the journey. Claire has been teaching advanced novel writing for fifteen years. During that time, her instruction has helped numerous students to become published authors. WP student Mansi Shah writes, “Working with Claire has been one of the most educational, creative, and humbling experiences I’ve ever had. Her no-nonsense critiques and supportive comments have enabled me to turn my thoughts into a fully-realized novel.”
Apart from her teaching duties, Claire is also a prolific author with twenty-seven titles in print. She was kind enough to take a moment out of her packed schedule to speak with us.
Writers’ Program: What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of being a Writers’ Program instructor?
Claire Carmichael: The Writers’ Program has many rewarding features for me, including: 1) Simply being associated with an entity as prestigious as the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. 2) Interacting with the people who make up the Writers’ Program team. It’s a delight to work with such professional, caring individuals. They make this instructor’s job easy. 3) Having the opportunity to teach such highly motivated students and share with them the sheer joy of writing well. I have no least favorite aspects. Not one.
WP: What qualities, if any, have your most successful students shared?
CC: A strong belief in themselves as writers, the persistence to overcome anything that impedes their writing, a drive to perfect their skills, and the ability to receive and give constructive criticism. Above all, each has a story that must be told.
WP: What are you working on now? How have your interests evolved over the course of your career?
CC: I find teaching so rewarding that it cuts into my own writing time. Recently I’ve been writing science fiction for young adults, mostly set a few years from now, where the trends of today have become the problems of the future. Next year I intend to write a fantasy novel, because it is a genre I have never tried and the challenge will be daunting but stimulating.
WP: What are the top craft mistakes that separate the novice from the advanced writer?
CC: Put simply, novice writers don’t know what they don’t know. Advanced writers do.
WP: What’s important for a novelist to bear in mind as he or she approaches today’s marketplace?
CC: Be aware that the publishing industry is in a state of flux and that new opportunities are arising that an informed writer can explore and exploit. Always remember that your novel, a work from your heart and mind, is simply a commodity in the marketplace. “Will this novel sell?” is the key question every literary agent and every publisher asks. Your work must be the best it can be. Editors in publishing houses no longer provide the classic editing service, but now act as gatekeepers, letting through those they consider saleable novels. That said, many wonderful novels have been rejected over and over again, and yet ultimately gone on to be bestsellers.
This winter, Claire will be teaching Novel Writing V: A Continuing Writer’s Workshop. In spring quarter, Claire will be teaching the Online Novel Writing Mentorship for the first time. Contact a WP advisor for more details.
Kate Sipples is the Program Assistant for Creative Writing (Onsite). Follow her writing adventures at http://twitter.com/KateofGoodHope.