Writing Workshops LA

Private creative writing school in Los Angeles for the brave, enthusiastic and talented.

Striving to be a resource for our student writers and non-student writers, we blog writing prompts, writing advice, writing job listings, and as much book porn as possible.
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Since Michelle Huneven delivered the keynote at WWLA: The Conference in June, attendees have been asking for a transcript of her talk, “The Trouble with Writing.” It’s now available to all at The Millions! 


Since Michelle Huneven delivered the keynote at WWLA: The Conference in June, attendees have been asking for a transcript of her talk, “The Trouble with Writing.” It’s now available to all at The Millions

The brilliant Margaret Wappler is teaching Nonfiction II this fall, and she took time out from revising her novel to answer some questions about the class, which starts Tuesday, September 30th at her home in Mt Washington.  Check them out below, and see all class details here.  
You’re not only a journalist and freelance nonfiction writer, you’re also a fiction writer working on a novel. How does your diversity of experience and interests, genre-wise, influence how you teach nonfiction writing? I’m a big believer in borrowing strategies from any genre. In fact, this is a hallmark of creative nonfiction – that it can hold one or several different genre strains in a single essay, chapter or book. Maybe I especially encourage nonfiction as a hybrid form because I’m often swimming between fiction and nonfiction myself, and the waters are inextricably mixed in my own practice. How does this experience play out in my instruction? For instance, I often tell my students not to be afraid of using research or reporting in their work, both of which are associated with traditional journalism. Reporting, by the way, can simply mean interviewing another family member about what she/he recalls from a specific time; it doesn’t have to mean getting the Surgeon General on the phone (though that would be pretty cool). Research – which can be anything from reading several articles to driving down the street where you used to live – can help develop your ideas, correlate (or productively complicate) your own experience or provide structure. I also talk about the value of building scenes, typically considered the purview of short stories and novels. It can crack an essay wide open to show characters interacting “in real time,” to get dialogue on the page, to use plotting (more or less the principle of what to reveal when) to develop tension in the piece. We also delve into poetics, particularly the well-established connection between poetry and the lyric essay. One last genre that I like to talk about, perhaps the most humble of all: the list. You might not realize it but that To-Do list sitting on your desk can be the foundation of a powerful essay. What’s one of your favorite pieces or excerpts of nonfiction to teach, and why? It’s a tie between “Make Me Worry You’re Not OK” by Susan Shapiro and the first few chapters of David Shields’ “Reality Hunger: A Manifesto.” The Shields’ book argues that we’re obsessed with reality as a culture because we hardly experience any (despite what Reality TV or Facebook would have us believe); it also implores us to reframe how we think about truth, memory and appropriation (the book is a collage of quotes from essayists, poets, novelists and other thinkers). “Reality Hunger,” which is particularly critical of the novel, is also fun to discuss because he relentlessly picks a fight with statements such as “I find nearly all the moves the traditional novel makes unbelievably predictable, tired, contrived, and essentially purposeless.” Tell us how you really feel, right? As far as the Shapiro piece goes, it wonderfully lays bare an essential truth about any kind of nonfiction you are writing: that the stakes should be high, that it should concern the reader for your health and/or survival. That’s not to say that essays can’t be about, as David Foster Wallace called it, the “dark matter” of life, the tedium, boredom or little things that plague us (our big thighs, that offhand thing someone said to us at the dog park) – but the piece must engage the subject as a matter of urgency. The essay should read like it’s the main preoccupation on the writer’s mind at that moment.How do you make sure your nonfiction workshops remain open-minded and compassionate, while also critical and helpful? Is it difficult to discuss writing about stuff that actually happened to the writer? This is such a great question because to me, as a teacher, none of the practical writing instruction means diddly if I can’t set up an atmosphere that supports risk, emotional honesty and compassion. Creating a nurturing but rigorous environment is my single biggest concern as a teacher. There are a couple of rules I set up to encourage this right off the bat: One is the way we talk about a student’s work. Instead of asking the writer “Did that really happen to you?” or talking about the “I” on the page as “you,” I encourage the students to refer to the “I” as “the narrator,” and to ask questions and give specific notes that might foster a better essay, not verify the veracity of a story. We also talk about the “I” as a persona, based on the essay “On the Necessity of Turning Oneself Into a Character” by Philip Lopate. This helps to keep the class firmly grounded in craft, not therapy. That said, I have a box of tissues at the ready. I’m not scared of a few tears, people. I like to tell my students that if an essay is making them cry or want to puke while writing it, they’re in fertile territory. If you feel like you have the flu when writing it, well, then that’s another story. You should probably go to the doctor. Anyway, I’m continuously inspired by my students’ ability to share the raw material of their lives and fashion it into insightful, lovely and haunting essays. It feeds my own writing everyday.

The brilliant Margaret Wappler is teaching Nonfiction II this fall, and she took time out from revising her novel to answer some questions about the class, which starts Tuesday, September 30th at her home in Mt Washington.  Check them out below, and see all class details here

You’re not only a journalist and freelance nonfiction writer,
you’re also a fiction writer working on a novel. How does your
diversity of experience and interests, genre-wise, influence how you teach nonfiction writing?

I’m a big believer in borrowing strategies from any genre. In fact, this is a hallmark of creative nonfiction – that it can hold one or several different genre strains in a single essay, chapter or book. Maybe I especially encourage nonfiction as a hybrid form because I’m often swimming between fiction and nonfiction myself, and the waters are inextricably mixed in my own practice. How does this experience play out in my instruction? For instance, I often tell my students not to be afraid of using research or reporting in their work, both of which are associated with traditional journalism. Reporting, by the way, can simply mean interviewing another family member about what she/he recalls from a specific time; it doesn’t have to mean getting the Surgeon General on the phone (though that would be pretty cool). Research – which can be anything from reading several articles to driving down the street where you used to live – can help develop your ideas, correlate (or productively complicate) your own experience or provide structure. I also talk about the value of building scenes, typically considered the purview of short stories and novels. It can crack an essay wide open to show characters interacting “in real time,” to get dialogue on the page, to use plotting (more or less the principle of what to reveal when) to develop tension in the piece. We also delve into poetics, particularly the well-established connection between poetry and the lyric essay. One last genre that I like to talk about, perhaps the most humble of all: the list. You might not realize it but that To-Do list sitting on your desk can be the foundation of a powerful essay.

What’s one of your favorite pieces or excerpts of nonfiction to
teach, and why?

It’s a tie between “Make Me Worry You’re Not OK” by Susan Shapiro and the first few chapters of David Shields’ “Reality Hunger: A Manifesto.” The Shields’ book argues that we’re obsessed with reality as a culture because we hardly experience any (despite what Reality TV or Facebook would have us believe); it also implores us to reframe how we think about truth, memory and appropriation (the book is a collage of quotes from essayists, poets, novelists and other thinkers). “Reality Hunger,” which is particularly critical of the novel, is also fun to discuss because he relentlessly picks a fight with statements such as “I find nearly all the moves the traditional novel makes unbelievably predictable, tired, contrived, and essentially purposeless.” Tell us how you really feel, right? As far as the Shapiro piece goes, it wonderfully lays bare an essential truth about any kind of nonfiction you are writing: that the stakes should be high, that it should concern the reader for your health and/or survival. That’s not to say that essays can’t be about, as David Foster Wallace called it, the “dark matter” of life, the tedium, boredom or little things that plague us (our big thighs, that offhand thing someone said to us at the dog park) – but the piece must engage the subject as a matter of urgency. The essay should read like it’s the main preoccupation on the writer’s mind at that moment.

How do you make sure your nonfiction workshops remain open-minded and compassionate, while also critical and helpful? Is it difficult to discuss writing about stuff that actually happened to the writer?

This is such a great question because to me, as a teacher, none of the practical writing instruction means diddly if I can’t set up an atmosphere that supports risk, emotional honesty and compassion. Creating a nurturing but rigorous environment is my single biggest concern as a teacher. There are a couple of rules I set up to encourage this right off the bat: One is the way we talk about a student’s work. Instead of asking the writer “Did that really happen to you?” or talking about the “I” on the page as “you,” I encourage the students to refer to the “I” as “the narrator,” and to ask questions and give specific notes that might foster a better essay, not verify the veracity of a story. We also talk about the “I” as a persona, based on the essay “On the Necessity of Turning Oneself Into a Character” by Philip Lopate. This helps to keep the class firmly grounded in craft, not therapy. That said, I have a box of tissues at the ready. I’m not scared of a few tears, people. I like to tell my students that if an essay is making them cry or want to puke while writing it, they’re in fertile territory. If you feel like you have the flu when writing it, well, then that’s another story. You should probably go to the doctor. Anyway, I’m continuously inspired by my students’ ability to share the raw material of their lives and fashion it into insightful, lovely and haunting essays. It feeds my own writing everyday.

This October, Rae Dubow is teaching a 2-day seminar called How to Give a Reading Without Boring Your Audience to Tears.  That’s the best seminar title ever, don’t you think?She answered three questions for us below.  To learn more about her seminar, and all our classes at WWLA, please see our website.
You’re the director of Talking Out Loud. Can you tell us a little bit about your business and how it came to be?
I started out as an actress. I was fortunate enough to teach, coach, and direct actors. These experiences proved invaluable for Talking Out Loud. I knew a lot of writers and as such, went to many readings. Often, I found them difficult to sit through. There seemed to be a disconnect between the writer and his or her work. I thought I could apply the same skills I used with actors with writers to improve the writers’ connection with their audiences. Any writer can feel more comfortable in front of an audience with just a few adjustments. That’s where I help not only writers, but also anyone who has performance anxiety.




 Sometimes when I do a reading I get nervous and I can’t breathe…which makes reading out loud challenging. What’s that about? Any tips for keeping that from happening?
Almost everyone has some level of discomfort in front of an audience. According to experts, fear of public speaking outranks fear of death. Jerry Seinfeld used to say that it’s more comfortable to be in the ground than to give the eulogy. I find that putting our focus on something other than the voice in our head that tells us we suck, our work isn’t good, etc…is the most important thing. How do we do that? Once we understand that we are giving something to the audience, we focus on them more than on ourselves. It’s also important not to rush to the end of the piece, as well as to make eye contact once in a while. These are general rules of advice, but I like to find the key that unlocks each writer’s discomfort zone.
What’s one of the best readings you’ve been to, and what made it so great?
I think Dinah Lenney is a superb reader. It helps that she’s an actress, but more than that, she is engaged with her audience and I always feel like she’s reading just to me. There’s something so powerful about sharing our stories with people. It’s been going on since the dawn of time. I loved being read to, as a kid, and I enjoyed reading to my own children. If we can remember that we’re just telling stories, we can relax and let our words speak for themselves.

This October, Rae Dubow is teaching a 2-day seminar called How to Give a Reading Without Boring Your Audience to Tears.  That’s the best seminar title ever, don’t you think?

She answered three questions for us below.  To learn more about her seminar, and all our classes at WWLA, please see our website.

You’re the director of Talking Out Loud. Can you tell us a little bit about your business and how it came to be?

I started out as an actress. I was fortunate enough to teach, coach, and direct actors. These experiences proved invaluable for Talking Out Loud. I knew a lot of writers and as such, went to many readings. Often, I found them difficult to sit through. There seemed to be a disconnect between the writer and his or her work. I thought I could apply the same skills I used with actors with writers to improve the writers’ connection with their audiences. Any writer can feel more comfortable in front of an audience with just a few adjustments. That’s where I help not only writers, but also anyone who has performance anxiety.

Sometimes when I do a reading I get nervous and I can’t breathe…which makes reading out loud challenging. What’s that about? Any tips for keeping that from happening?

Almost everyone has some level of discomfort in front of an audience. According to experts, fear of public speaking outranks fear of death. Jerry Seinfeld used to say that it’s more comfortable to be in the ground than to give the eulogy. I find that putting our focus on something other than the voice in our head that tells us we suck, our work isn’t good, etc…is the most important thing. How do we do that? Once we understand that we are giving something to the audience, we focus on them more than on ourselves. It’s also important not to rush to the end of the piece, as well as to make eye contact once in a while. These are general rules of advice, but I like to find the key that unlocks each writer’s discomfort zone.

What’s one of the best readings you’ve been to, and what made it so great?

I think Dinah Lenney is a superb reader. It helps that she’s an actress, but more than that, she is engaged with her audience and I always feel like she’s reading just to me. There’s something so powerful about sharing our stories with people. It’s been going on since the dawn of time. I loved being read to, as a kid, and I enjoyed reading to my own children. If we can remember that we’re just telling stories, we can relax and let our words speak for themselves.

Elline Lipkin’s Mixed Levels Poetry Workshop begins Tuesday, September 30th in Glendale.  Elline was kind enough to take time out from poetry and parenthood to talk about Wallace Stevens and Annie’s bunny snacks:

1. Your new poetry workshop is partly focused on “cultivating a practice of poetry.” What’s your own poetry practice like, and has it changed or evolved over the years? 

My own practice has waxed and waned alongside the other demands in my life.  Now, as the parent to a young child, I fit time to write into smaller, yet more intense fragments of time. But the thread that I always keep spinning is reading poetry, attending readings to hear work read live, and cultivating a sense of my own next manuscript project, so that even if my time is limited, I can dive right back in.

2. What’s one of your favorite lines of poetry, and why?

I’ve always loved Wallace Stevens’ ending line to the poem “Of Mere Being”: “The bird’s fire-fangled feathers dangle down."  There’s a lovely alliteration going on with the "f" and "d" sounds and the line is deeply mysterious.  Even though it comes at the end of the poem nothing is illuminated in a grand burst of clarity.  Rather, Stevens wraps the poem with the sheen of even greater mystery.  It builds the mood he’s been developing and leaves the reader more enraptured through its sound, rhythm, and intriguingly opaque glimmers.

3. Do you have any special, favorite snacks you like to serve at your classes?

I’m very fond of bringing Annie’s Home Grown Bunny Graham Friends. So far, my students seem to be as well.  The Cocoa & Vanilla flavor is a truly excellent mix, as is Snickerdoodle.  For those with more savory tastes, White Cheddar is also really good.  I used to always bring Extra Extra Cheddar, but they discontinued it, a sad day.  But all of Annie’s flavors seem to inspire good thinking and writing.

4. Help!  I am stuck on this poem I’m trying to write!  Have any advice to get me through at least this first thorny, frustrating draft!

Stop and read one of your favorite poems, if possible, twice through.  Close your eyes and visualize what you’re trying to convey.  Come back to the page, or blank screen from a place of greater stillness.  Even if you just get out one line, or an image, or a word that encapsulates something you’re trying to express, you’re making progress.  Be patient and come back again.  The poem will come.

Thanks, Elline!  For more info about Elline’s poetry class, go to: www.writingworkshopsla.com

nprbooks:

Think the Internet is degrading the reading habits of the young? That millennials are Snapchatting themselves into a cultureless stupor? Well, think again!

A new study finds that young Americans are more likely to have read a book in the past year than their older counterparts. According to data from the Pew Research Center, “88% of Americans under 30 read a book in the past year, compared with 79% of those age 30 and older.” In another surprise, people under 30 were also more likely to say that there is “a lot of useful, important information that is not available on the Internet.”

Read on, America! (More book news here.)

This fall, author Kate Maruyama is teaching a 2-day seminar called Welcome to My World: Worldbuilding Across GenresShe was kind enough to answer a few questions for us…

1. Can you name 1 or 2 novels that are shining examples of world building? What makes their worlds so great?

In terms of books most people know, Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles are a terrific example of a world fully formed. She created new rules involving vampires, which was unheard of in those days, but was okay because they all worked within that world’s methodology. (Obviously you can change the rules on vampires any time now, as the Twilight Series does.) The world in which her main characters move and react is loaded with singular descriptions, senses and politics and was so vividly created that I still completely understand that world, even twenty years after reading the books.

I would argue that Donna Tartt’s realist book, The Goldfinch created as elaborate a world as Anne Rice did. Tartt explored the depths and breadths of the art world and the antique furniture world and its techniques in such detail that the reader was able to engage with the protagonist straying from the norm—cheating, cutting corners with refinishing. Within that book, she also created the world of a crumbling housing development in Las Vegas in its lawlessness and edge which ended up elaborating a lost time in our protagonist’s life.

Every book needs to create its own world, and that’s why I love teaching this course.

2. I’m writing a literary realist short story—can I take your class even if there aren’t any goblins in my work?

Absolutely! The tools I built up in creating the world of my horror novel have been so useful in taking back to my own realist fiction, both long and short. The layers in background, belief systems and society are useful questions for bringing out realist characters and their own worlds, in a job at a restaurant, for instance, or their placement in the larger culture of a family, in a city, a desert or some point in the past. I can give you tools that can not only enhance the texture of your story, but can open up the story itself. Once you start asking questions about your characters’ place in the world they live in, a lot of layers open up for you.

3. Your class will be held at Incarnation Community Center in Glendale. What can you tell us about this location?

I’ve been teaching in a lovely, brightly painted classroom in Glendale for two years now. It’s become like a second home with its comfortable seating and easy access from the parking lot. It’s more like a living room than a classroom environment which has made it ideal for workshops.

Kate’s worldbuilding seminar will be held on two consecutive Saturdays, on October 25 and November 1. For more info, please go to our website.

The brilliant Catie Disabato has stepped down from WWLA’s Social Media Coordinator position in order to focus her energies on a new PR job she just landed. She will also be turning her attention to the publication of her fantastic novel, The Ghost Network, forthcoming in 2015 from Melville House! 

Catie will still be taking WWLA classes, of course, and hanging out with us around town.  She’s the best and we have loved having her on the WWLA internetz team. 

Cheers, Catie!

The best spot for Los Angelenos to write outside of our apartments (that mostly don’t have air conditioning) is The Writers Junction in Santa Monica. If you aren’t familiar with this urban oasis, The Writers Junction is a magical place where the coffee’s always on, the printing’s always free, and the nearest outlet is always within arm’s reach.

And on eight Saturdays this fall, Caeli Widger (author of Real Happy Family) will be at The Writers Junction, teaching her Mixed Levels Fiction class for short story or novel writers. The focus of the class will be on generating new pages and discussing published work, culminating in workshops.

To sign up for Caeli’s class, click here for all the details and enrollment info. (And if you already belong to The Writers Junction, you can enroll for a discounted rate!)

And to bask in the glory that is The Writers Junction, click here to check out membership options and sign up for a free day pass sample the goods.

emilybooks:

Take 50% off all Emily Books and even subscriptions for the rest of the day (8/29) with code DOG DAYS at checkout. To celebrate the end of this long, weird summer, we created this crazy discount!  Now is your chance to snag books like DAYS OF ABANDONMENT, PLAYING THE WHORE, SCARECRONE, HOW TO GET INTO THE TWIN PALMS, THE BUDDHIST, INFERNO, MAIDENHEAD, MY MISSPENT YOUTH, KING KONG THEORY and more for half price! 

AWESOME SALE ALERT

We are so honored & excited to be featured in Michael Bourne’s article “The MFA Alternatives” in the latest issue of Poets & Writers!

This is our favorite part:

But the setting - eight writers seated at a dinner table surrounded by the instructor’s book collection while her husband pads around the kitchen heating up leftovers - also plays a role in dialing down some of the stress of receiving serious criticism. As Lepucki puts it: ‘One of the things I like about Writing Workshops Los Angeles, and it’s probably the same with any classes that are held at someone’s home, is that the discourse is high-level and we’re really serious about craft, but you’re sitting in someone’s living room and you’re eating a cookie.’

Our new tagline: serious about craft, while eating a cookie.