Each year, the Writers’ Program takes a moment to honor two instructors who have gone above and beyond to give our students the skills they need to succeed in the highly competitive screenwriting and novel writing industries. At this year’s annual Department of the Arts Outstanding Instructor Awards ceremony, Program Director Linda Venis honored screenwriter Karl Iglesias and novelist Linda Palmer, who have provided encouragement and inspiration (not to mention invaluable writing skills) to hundreds of students over the years. Here, they reflect on the Writers’ Program, on teaching, and on the students who make it all possible.
Writers’ Program: What brought you to the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and what is your favorite thing about teaching? What do you hope to contribute to the next generation of novelists or screenwriters?
Karl Iglesias: Teaching is the perfect balance with the solitary lifestyle of the writer. I get to write during the day and in the evening I get to be social with my students. I also like that as an avid learner, with a deep passion for the craft of storytelling, I can truly immerse myself in it as a student and a teacher, which means I get to learn it twice by teaching it. But the deepest pleasure always comes from helping others, teaching students and guiding them, especially when you see results down the line, either as the class progresses and the work becomes better, or months or years later when a student wins a screenwriting contest, sells a script or gets their movie produced.
Linda Palmer: I began my happy association with the Writers’ Program teaching screenwriting. Five years ago, when I was under contract with a publisher for a series of novels, I started teaching novel writing. What I hope to give to aspiring novelists is my experience in the real world of publishing. I want to start writers on a solid path of learning the craft in order to give them the best possible chance in the extremely competitive marketplace. I want to spare them from being rejected just because they didn’t know how to tell a story to maximum effect.
WP: Are there any teachers in your life that have had a particular impact on you?
KI: There are too many to mention because I feel everything and everyone has taught me something about story. As I said, I’m an avid learner and will remain a lifelong student, trying to absorb from everyone. Except now, rather than just learning for my craft, I can look at it as lesson prep for my classes.
LP: The teacher who’s had the greatest impact on my career as a novelist is Writers’ Program instructor Claire Carmichael. When I switched to writing novels, I realized that I would have to learn a craft that’s very different from screenwriting. In many ways, the two disciplines are diametrically opposed. Thanks to what I’ve learned from Claire, I’ve been under a series of contracts for one book a year for 8 years now. The next novel is finished and will be published in 2011 and I’ve just signed a new contract for a book to come out in early 2012. Thank you, Claire!
WP: In your experience, what role does the Writers’ Program play in novel writing and/or screenwriting communities?
KI: Storytelling looks easy on the screen or on the page but it takes years to master if you want to tell a good story well on a consistent basis, which is a necessity if you want a career in Hollywood. The novice has three ways to learn: on their own through books and seminars, through the Writers’ Program, or by getting accepted into and attending film school for two years. Since you need constant feedback on your work, the first option is limiting. This leaves a choice between the Writers’ Program and film school. While there is some value to getting a graduate degree, it’s very expensive, you’re stuck with a specific curriculum and you only have a limited choice of professors. With the Writers’ program, however, enrollment in open to anyone, and the best part is that you can pick the classes you need and teachers you want to study with. With over 50 screenwriting classes and teachers to choose from every quarter, the choice is clear. Then again, I may be biased.
LP: Writers’ Program instructors teach the subjects they earn their livings from, which mean that they can give students “real world” experience. If we can give them the tools necessary to fulfill their dreams of seeing their novels published, it’s time well spent.
From the Writers’ Program to Karl and Linda we say collectively, “thank you.”
Katy Flaherty is the Program Representative for Creative Writing (Online) and Events.