Each year the Writers’ Program has the privilege of giving two instructors Outstanding Instructor of the Year Awards. At the 2012 awards luncheon, online instructor Lynn Hightower will join us to be recognized as one of this year’s recipients. A favorite among students, Lynn’s courses and mentorship sessions are always incredibly popular as students seek her advice for their novels in progress. But don’t take our word for it. A recent student of Lynn says, “Lynn is a delight and her reputation as an excellent instructor is well founded. I would take any one of her classes in a heartbeat. I always knew what was required and felt comfortable and relaxed knowing that my questions would be answered. I felt encouraged and motivated throughout.” One of Lynn’s mentorship students adds, “she has a wonderful, personable and down-to-earth approach to teaching that gets right to the meat of what the student needs. I’m just so happy with the experience and I plan to keep working with Lynn each month as I make my way through the revision of my manuscript. I am recommending this path to all my writer friends!”
If you haven’t had the chance to work with Lynn yet, don’t miss out on her popular course, Novel Planning: Bringing Order Out of Chaos this Winter 2013!
Writers’ Program: We are thrilled you’ll be receiving an Outstanding Instructor of the Year Award for 2012! What does this award mean to you?
Lynn Hightower: It took me by complete surprise, to tell you the truth, and I am thrilled and honored and grateful, frankly. It’s humbling and validating. The UCLA Extension Writers’ Program is full of gifted people — teachers, program directors, and assistants. Everyone seems to be working at the top of their game and I’m grateful just to be a part of it all.
Wp’: What is it about teaching that you enjoy most?
LH: Two things. One is those Eureka moments with students, when they’ve been wrestling with craft issues, and they finally get it, and there it is on the page; they’re flexing storytelling muscles you’ve been coaching them through and you see the storytelling take off. The next thing you know they have an agent and a publishing contract, and it’s magical. The second is how surprised and relieved students are when you tell them that what they are struggling with is normal, it is process, and that I struggle too. All writers do, so they aren’t alone. It’s no reflection of their talent; it is simply writing as usual.
Wp’: For those of our students who have yet to take one of your courses, what would you like them to know about your classes and teaching style?
LH: When you are in my class you are in “The Hightower Writing Sanctuary.” It’s a safe place to try new things, to make mistakes, to get your hands dirty with the manuscript. Writers so often expect to be perfect from word one and that isn’t how the real world works. So once you’re in the sanctuary, in a world of other writers, you have me coaching you through. I am always an email away. I will push you out of your comfort zone, no question, but I’ll be right there guiding you through, in a safe place where you are supported by me and your classmates.
Wp’: You are so dedicated to helping your students, and yet you still make time to keep up with your own writing. How do you create balance and make time for your own projects like your forthcoming book, The Piper?
LH: I spend my mornings writing. I work until 2PM. After that I take a couple of hours every day to work through the student manuscripts and embed feedback notes into the work. I do phone conferences twice a week during certain hours with mentorship students, or with students who are really snarled up and need to talk out some craft issues. Then I check in with email and Blackboard every day — and I have the students turn in their work on a Discussion Board so that once they get my feedback we can talk about it. I always tell them that the feedback is the beginning of the conversation.
Wp’: What does a wonderful teacher like you learn from your students?
LH: Working with students helps me formalize the writing process. Often I have done things by instinct — but when I need to teach students, I have to come up with lecture notes and a process for them so they can work through the same issues. It is not enough to tell a student that what they are writing needs work. You have to show them how to work the craft, right on down to the most delicate nuance. This means that when I am onto writing my next book and thinking, how on earth do I approach this, I can identify how to tackle those same challenges because I’ve had to coach students through it already. I’ve come up with some teaching tools for students — using scene plans, structure tools, that I now use myself every day. And working with students keeps me aware of the simple joy of writing and craft work. I have wonderful days; I write in the morning, and teach students in the afternoon. It is exactly the life I love.
Congratulations, Lynn! We are so grateful you are a part of the Writers’ Program.
Alicia Wheeler is the Program Representative in Creative Writing (Online) and Events.