Three weeks ago, students from our Master Class in Novel Writing came together with instructor Lisa Cron in Westwood for four days of brainstorming and workshopping. The students , who have been working together online for the past 6-months, hailed from locales as diverse as Philadelphia, Santa Cruz, and Manhattan Beach. They are all focused on getting their novels, which they’ve been revising with Lisa’s guidance since September, to a publishable level.

During the residency, Lisa kept the focus on story—what works, what doesn’t, what needs to be changed—to get each student’s novel in tip top shape. Workshopping was punctuated by visits from guest speakers Eduardo Santiago and Jennie Nash, both Writers’ Program instructors themselves. Students shared their work aloud during a public reading at Book Soup.

As Lisa puts it, “it was like a reunion, even though we’d never met face to face before. It’s a tight knit group, and the writers have given each other incredibly insightful notes over the past six months. We all knew what our goals were for the residency, so we hit the ground running, with gusto! Going back and forth online is great, but there’s nothing I love more than talking story with a roomful of dedicated writers, so it was heaven.”

The online/low-residency format mirrors, on a smaller scale, the way many MFA programs are structured, allowing students from throughout the country to collaborate, find inspiration, and most importantly, make significant progress on their novels. For students like Lori Hultin of Westlake Village, this format provides a structure that they might not otherwise have time for between working full time and raising a family. “Nothing beats the face-to-face, in class experience,” says Lori, “so the residency was great. It was very useful to meet everyone, and I think brainstorming/sharing ideas is much easier in person.”

The students will continue to work together through May, and late in the summer will submit a selection from their novel for review by a literary agent, the culmination of nearly a year of blood, sweat, and tears.

As for Lisa, “I’ve loved teaching the Master Class. Each student came into the class an accomplished writer, and now they’ve become master storytellers as well. It’s an unbeatable combination. To have been part of that? There’s no greater feeling.”

Applications for the 2012-2013 Master Class in Novel Writing will be available online in April. For more information, please call the Writers’ Program at 310-825-9415.

Katy Flaherty is the Program Representative for Creative Writing (Online) and Events. Write to her at kflaherty@uclaextension.edu.

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