Category Archives: UCLA Extension

Who you gonna call? (Funkbusters!)

Posted on June 15, 2011 by

My current, lovely, talented and very hardworking group of Novel III students is reaching the end of another quarter, with fifty new pages under their belts, and some of them are feeling the re-entry burn. They have more to do, and they’re falling prey to the “Is this shit? Can I finish?” blues.

I’ve told them they’re not alone, and offered a few of my tried-and-true funk breaking-techniques (punitive amounts of caffeine, bribing myself just to keep on, freewriting, Ignoring it and Hoping It Goes Away), but I am always happy to hear more. The more so because my current story, “Wetness,” is kicking me in the head with the Pointy Boots of Vagueness.


On another note, M.K. Hobson explains here how you and twenty-six of your friends can earn Clarion West $1500 just by joining the Write-A-Thon.

Characterization: getting versus wanting

Posted on May 2, 2011 by

There is a catchy phrase that comes up in various types of motivational speaking:

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

I’ve known this one for awhile, and as far as fortune-cookie delivered Life Lessons go, I agree with the underlying philosophy. But K and I were walking in the West End last weekend, and we came upon a commercial sandwich board with this taped on it:

“If you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.”

Also catchy, and in some ways the exact same message, but I’m fascinated by the difference in nuance that comes with the altered wording. The first has such a freight of passivity: the ‘you’ is getting something–presumably something they no longer want, or maybe never did. My imagination is offering up a steaming bucket of something from a stable-mucking, delivered weekly to your door.

The second, meanwhile is about wanting something new. It’s about running to, rather than running away.

Both get the general idea across quite succinctly–but the latter phrasing is more positive, more of a call to action. In comparison, the first is a bit of a finger wag, a lecture from a judgmental imaginary parent figure. “If you’re just gonna insist on playing your electric guitar in the hot tub, young fella, don’t come crying to me when you do the electric boogaloo.”

It is easy to imagine the one phrase as a draft and the other as revision, the one as good enough wording and the second as a perfected version, as final copy. It’s especially easy because, as writers, we frown on certain types of linguistic passiveness. In reality, they are two different takes on the same idea, gleaned from different sources.

Still. It may be useful to think of them that way, perhaps especially when we talk about making our characters more active. Are they getting what they always got when they’re meant to be pulling a novel forward? Do they want something they never had? Do they want anything at all?

Finally, how do you shift them to chasing their desires, if what they’ve really been doing is just opening up the door every morning to see what life has handed them?

On another topic, word metrics on the current wip: Saturday, 450 words. Sunday, 822.

Creative Catch-22…

Posted on April 28, 2011 by

I have been corresponding these past couple of days with an aspiring writer who followed the Harry Turtledove interview to my teaching page, and saw that I sometimes take students for one on one mentoring. He’s newly out of university and hasn’t written seriously before; he’s been researching how one goes about developing a novel, but is afraid of diving in, writing 50K, and ending up with something that can’t be turned into publishable work. That’s the part that’s really stopping him, the What if I spend six or twelve months of my life writing this thing, and it turns out it can’t be polished to a professional level?

These are the economics of art: especially when you’re new, you do it on spec, for love. You put in the time and you don’t know if it will ever pay. You have to hope the process is in some way gratifying, that the artistic growth feels good, that there are discoveries that pay for the lost time, sleep, and social opportunities.

So I’ve told him that some first-timers write salable books, some write fixable drafts, and some write books that may have been really good learning experiences, but otherwise oughtn’t to see the light of day. And I’ve asked him if he’s afraid he won’t enjoy the process of writing something he may well have to trunk. It seems like a good place to start. What do you all think?

A few days ago I drafted up a post about how I thought I’d start posting word counts for the current project: at that point, I was up to 20725, which meant I’d written 1200ish words over the long weekend. I have about another chapter in hand but not all of it has been typed; I’ll report again soon.

So you wanna create a universe?

Posted on April 25, 2011 by

My UCLA Extension Writers’ Program course, “Creating Universes, Building Worlds,” is officially open for students this week. This is a ten-week course that runs online, available to anyone in the world (well, fifteen anyones, anyway). Classes start on June 29th and run to September.

Anyone is welcome, including students who’ve taken the class before and simply want to workshop another short story with a new group. If you have any questions, let me know.

Writing links, three bags full

Posted on April 6, 2011 by

My Spring 2011 Novel III class starts up next Wednesday and it’s about a fifty/fifty mix of students I’ve had in earlier classes and people I’ve never met before. It’ll be interesting to see what that’s like: half the projects will be new to me, and the others will be novels I’ve looked at quite closely.

One of the things I do with these classes is sift useful links from the flow of the Twitternets and other places and post them as guest lectures. Some are so valuable that I post them pretty much every time . . . which means they’ll be reruns for the folks who’ve taken my fall class.

I thought, for the sake of interest, I’d look at the links I considered postworthy last quarter. There’s a lot of them, and some were things I looked up as discussions progressed, so if it feels like the context is lacking, that’s why. There’s some interesting stuff here, and you all know a lot came up in the past quarter that could have gone on the list too, but this is what ended up hitting my classroom. Feel free to propose your faves in comments.

Scott Edelman – fifteen minute video, “How to Respond to a Critique of Your Writing

Juliette Wade – Character-driven approach to kissing and sex scenes
Jay Lake – Producing Story
Kay Kenyon – The Mush Factor
Jon Sprunk – The Journey from Seedling to Bookshelf
Jane Friedman – You Hate Your Writing? That’s a Good Sign!
Sonya Chung – Writing Across Gender (This essay quotes the sex scene from BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, so maybe don’t read it at work.)
Chuck Wendig – Storytelling and the Art of Sadness
Three from Cat Rambo – Three strategies for snaring the senses, Five things to do in your first three paragraphs, and Why Titles Matter.
Nicola Griffith – Narrative Grammar – An Exercise
Suzannah Windsor Freeman – Seven Tasks to Bridge your First and Second Drafts
Joe McKinney – Rules for Writing about Cops

Revision and editing
Jan Winburn – How to Edit Your Way to a Can’t-Miss Story (be sure to check out the slide show.)
June Casagrande – More Parsing Larsson

Marketing Books / The Publishing Industry:
Query Shark Blog
Anna Kashina – Interview with editor Peter Stampfel
Charlie Stross – How Books are Made
Christina Thompson – How to Write a Book in Ten Easy… Years?
J.E. Fishman – Twelve Common Miscperceptions about Book Publishing
Stina Leicht – On Agents
YA Fantasy Guide – Interview with Agent Sarah Megibow
Colleen Lindsay – Word counts for fiction, all kinds of fiction

The ever-changing state of self and e-pubbing:
John Scalzi – ePubbing Bingo Card
James Maxey – Pouring Cold Water on Kindle-ing
Eli James – The Very Rich Indie Writer
Tonya Plank – Meet Amanda Hocking
Book View Cafe

Turning Research into Narrative
Steve Pinker – Ten minute video on Language as a window into human nature
Yasmine Galenorn – Research Notebook from Hell

Life as a Writer
Finally, two from John Scalzi – “Writers have as much (financial) sense as chimps on crack“, and a tough love link on work habits.