Well, aren’t you lucky? This is a three for the price of one review, i.e., you don’t have to slog through three of my posts to get the lowdown on these three core classes. I took NWI, II, and III back-to-back and decided not to write any reviews until they were all completed because they aren’t stand alone courses. You don’t have to take these classes over three subsequent semesters, and there are pros and cons with that choice. If you do what I did, then you’ll have the same instructor (and many of the same students) all the way along, and if you stagger them, you can choose a different teacher (and get different students) each time.
TL;DR – Class mantra: Keep Moving Forward. If you’re interested in novel writing you can’t beat these three classes. You’ll end up with at least 100 pages and enough feedback to do hours of revisions afterwards. The instructor was excellent. I enjoyed having the same one throughout, and I enjoyed having the same group of fellow students with me along the way. Awesome class, awesome teacher, awesome end result. If you’re thinking about it, don’t hesitate. You’re welcome.
The Detailed Version:
First, these are mandatory for the UCLA Fiction Writing Certificate, but I recommend them to anyone interested in, or struggling with, writing a book. They focus on writing your novel, and at the end you’ll have completed at least one hundred pages with ample notes and feedback for revisions. The pace is fast because you’re required to produce around 14 pages of your draft every two weeks, which means you don’t have time to linger or worry about perfecting and tweaking. It forces you to keep moving forward, which is something many of us struggle with when trying to write our magnum opus.
I’d say 80% of the students who started in NWI, stayed all the way to NWIII. I enjoyed this consistency because I found it kept the momentum going, and we didn’t lose time learning another teacher’s format or group dynamic. It was also fun to watch everyone’s novels develop over the nine months, and by the third class we were all so comfortable with each other that we put out some of our best work and critiques. What I liked the most about this however, is the way our teacher’s feedback could be much deeper because she was watching us and our stories develop over a significant amount of time. She didn’t have to waste time pointing out problems or stylistic choices that were evident and addressed in the first class. A new teacher would have to do that. Still, having some new perspectives would have been great too. At least with Novel Writing IV, which I plan to take next year, there will be a new instructor and new group of students.
My instructor for NW I-III was Alyx Dellamonica, and she’s great. Most teachers don’t control who you choose to critique, but Alyx has a system whereby she assigns them each week, and she does it in a way so that you’ll be reviewing six fellow students each quarter (three one week, three the next, repeat), and these will be the peers reviewing you. This is a fantastic structure because nobody is left out, and everyone gets the same number of critiques. Plus, it helped make participation consistent right to the last week. This is the highest level of participation I’ve ever seen in an online class, which was awesome. I also appreciated how knowledgable she is about writing and publishing, and how much she contributed over and above the weekly lectures and discussions (which were always excellent and on point). Even though I disagreed with some of her advice, you can’t go wrong if you choose Alyx. Her attention to detail is equal to her ability to see the big picture, and her reviews are among the most detailed and helpful I’ve ever received.
Now, what didn’t I like? Not much. Oh there were the odd things like the pressure of having to produce so many pages on a deadline (sometimes I hated it because I had writer’s block), and a couple of arrogant students who despite the clear rules about workshopping etiquette, dished out some nasty reviews that were totally uncalled for and resulted in those recipients not continuing on with our group. Of course, the instructor has no control over this, and I have to say Alyx handled it tactfully and kindly to the point the reviewers apologized. Still, students like that piss me off. They have no place in a collaborative environment.
So, there you have it! A quick but verbose rundown of the core novel writing classes at the UCLA Extension. I hope this helps anyone trying to decide whether or not to take them, and/or whether to take them sequentially or not, but don’t hesitate to ask me for more specific information if you have questions.
I took a break from classes this summer while I moved across country, but now I’ve signed up for two and I can’t wait to dive back in! See ya’ll when I come back to review them in December.