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362900: Introduction to Creative Writing

  • Fall 2018
  • Section 1
  • 2 Credits
  • 10/27/2018 to 12/08/2018
  • Modified 11/28/2018

Contact Information

Instructor: Colette Sartor

Email: [email protected]

**If you prefer not to share your email address, please contact me through the Canvas Inbox.

Instructor Bio

I came to writing late, as a lawyer seeking a way out of an ill-chosen career. While extricating myself from the law, I took my first writing classes at UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, where I had the privilege of working with tremendously talented instructors and writers who have remained an inspirational part of my writing community. I went on to complete my MFA in fiction writing at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where I received a Truman Capote Fellowship.

My short story collection Once Removed and Other Stories (upcoming 2019, University of Georgia Press) won the 2018 Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. My stories and stories and essays have appeared in numerous anthologies and journals, including Kenyon Review OnlineThe Chicago TribuneCarveSlice MagazinePrinters Row JournalPrairie SchoonerHarvard ReviewColorado ReviewPress 53 Open Awards Anthology,Law and Disorder: Stories of Conflict and Crime, and elsewhere.

I have taught writing for over fifteen years, including at UCLA Extension Writers' Program, USC Gould School of Law, and privately. In addition to writing and teaching, I co-host the Literary Roadhouse Bookclub podcast.

For more information, please visit

For daily posts about writing, follow my Facebook Page, Colette Sartor’s Writing Resources.

To listen to the Literary Roadhouse Bookclub podcast, please click here.

Instructor Statement

We all have stories to tell, about a girlfriend who beat up her would-be mugger, or the guy at the next table who told his date he could weld everything but the crack in her ass and a broken heart. But even seasoned writers can find themselves stuck when trying to tell those stories. Often the best way to break through this block is to demystify the writing process. My goal is to arm my students with a practical creative toolbox that brims with the necessities for bringing a story to life: characters so full of desires and opinions that they won’t stop talking; conflicts that demand action and reaction; dialogue that sings and intrigues and informs; settings that become characters themselves, they’re so real.

UCLA Extension Writer's Program:

For administrative issues, please contact the Writers’ Program.


This six week class is perfect for anyone just getting started on their path to being a writer. Students work in small breakout sessions with experienced writers and teachers, then attend a lecture by various guest speakers with expertise in fiction, poetry, nonfiction, or screenwriting. Short assignments are workshopped in the weekly breakouts. The goal of the course is to expose new writers to a variety of types of writing while getting their creative juices flowing. At the end of the quarter, students will feel more confident about their skills and will be prepared for further study of writing.


By the end of this course, students should be able to

  • identify basic techniques of storytelling, fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and screenwriting
  • implement in their writings the techniques covered in this course;
  • employ critical reading skills toward the betterment of works in progress, both their own and others’; and
  • participate effectively in workshops.


Required Texts

Various materials posted on Canvas in the weekly Modules.

Optional Texts

Burning Down the House, by Charles Baxter; How to Write Short, by Roy Peter Clark; The Eleventh Draft, edited by Frank Conroy; Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, by Natalie Goldberg; Naming the World: And Other Exercises for the Creative Writer, edited by Bret Anthony Johnston; On Writing, by Stephen King; Bird by Bird: Some Instructions of Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott; Forest for the Trees (Revised and Updated): An Editor’s Advice to Writers, by Betsy Lerner; The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life, by Pricilla Long; 12 Stories and Their Making, edited by Paul Mandelbaum; This is the Year You Write Your Novel, by Walter Mosley; Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction, by Benjamin Percy; Reading Like a Writer, by Francine Prose; The Art of Time in Fiction, by Joan Silber.

Optional texts are available for purchase online through such sites as

Class Materials

Please bring to every class meeting plenty of writing utensils and paper, all handouts, assignments, and copies of assignments for breakout sessions. Portable computers or tablets are also appropriate.


Grading: To earn an A in the course, you must come to every class meeting on time and prepared with materials and assignments due, participate in class discussions and workshops—making thoughtful contributions, demonstrate improvement in your writing skills and understanding of creative writing and workshop, and complete all assignments as assigned. Grades will be given upon request; however, you can easily track your grade by your effort and participation each week.

Credit Status: You may change your credit status up to the midpoint of the course online in your account, by calling the Registration Office at (310) 825-9971, or by sending an e-mail to [email protected] Thereafter, notify me of requests for changes. If you do not change your grade status, I must give you the type of grade you signed up for.


Types of evaluations and related weights
Type Weight Topic Notes
Feedback on your classmates’ work 30%
Participation in weekly discussions 30%
Writing assignments 40%


100 %
to 97.0%
< 97.0 %
to 94.0%
< 94.0 %
to 90.0%
< 90.0 %
to 87.0%
< 87.0 %
to 84.0%
< 84.0 %
to 80.0%
< 80.0 %
to 77.0%
< 77.0 %
to 74.0%
< 74.0 %
to 70.0%
< 70.0 %
to 0.0%

Course Policies

Writing Assignments

This course is exercise driven. Every week in class, you will receive a writing assignment  that you will share in class the following week. The writing exercise will consist of an exercise assigned by the guest lecturer and some alternatives from me.

Each assignment appears in the Class Module for the week during which the assignment will be discussed. For example, the storytelling assignment you receive during Class 1 appears in the Class 2 Module and is called "Class 2 - Storytelling Assignment."

Unless otherwise noted, assignments should be no more than 750 words.

Each week, please bring enough copies of the assignment to be discussed that week for the instructor and all students. As an alternative, you may also the submit each assignment to the Discussion in the Module for the class during which we will discuss the assignment. This will allow people to follow along as you read the assignment aloud during class, as well as to provide more helpful feedback.

Please post your assignment to the appropriate Discussion no later than the morning of the class during which we will discuss that assignment

To post your assignment, click on the Discussion in the appropriate Module and click "Reply." Then attach the manuscript by clicking "Attach" in the lower left corner. Then click the "Post Reply" button in the lower right corner.

Please note that assignments are to be read aloud in class for oral feedback only. If you miss class, you forfeit the opportunity to receive feedback on the assignment due that day.

Weekly Breakout Workshops

During our weekly breakout workshops, students will read their assignments for that week aloud and I will give them oral criticism on that assignment. Please be ready each week to read and discuss the work of your peers, and to receive their feedback on your work.

Please review the Workshopping Guidelines below to ensure your feedback is as helpful to your classmates as possible. 

Weekly Guest Lectures

Immediately following each breakout workshop, we will proceed together to that week’s guest lecture. The guest lecture will introduce a new genre of writing and will be presented by a knowledgeable, successful writer. This is a great opportunity for you to learn about writing from a variety of voices, and to encounter writers and work you may not have heard of before.

For information about weekly guest speakers, please see the Schedule at the end of this Course Syllabus.

Late Work

There are no make-up assignments. Please plan your schedule accordingly. I encourage you to have your homework completed the day before it’s due to ensure that you meet the deadlines. 

Time Management

To benefit most from this course, three to six hours outside of class are needed to complete the coursework.


If you must miss a class meeting, it is your responsibility to review the Course Syllabus and/or find out from another student what was covered in class and to obtain any handouts given during class. Five points are deducted for each absence, unless is it a valid absence as per UCLA Extension’s policy on absences.

Workshopping Guidelines

Reading and discussing each other’s work in writing workshops requires a respectful environment; therefore, please abide by the following guidelines when workshopping each other’s work: 

  • Please refrain from speaking when your work is being discussed. As soon as you explain or justify your work, the reader is lost to you as a critic. You will be allowed to ask and answer questions at the end of our discussion.
  • We will start each workshop by each briefly commenting on the positive points of the work. What was special about this piece? What did the writer do particularly well? Let the writer know her or his strengths. Next, we will discuss areas in the work that could be improved. Focus on the piece’s technical aspects and not on your evaluation of the writer’s psychology. Of course, your feedback should avoid personal attacks, insults, or harassment of any kind. Your stance should be that of a careful and interested reader. Try to make suggestions or observations that the writer can take into the next draft or into other pieces, and try to be specific rather than general. For example:

Example 1

"Your piece is great."

"I really didn't like this. It just didn't work for me." 

These comments aren’t helpful because they offer no specific observations of the piece that could help guide the writer’s revisions. 

Example 2

"I like the way you used point of view."

"Seems like the point of view changes throughout the piece." 

These comments are more helpful because they help the writer focus on a specific aspect of the piece. 

Example 3

"I couldn't figure out whose point of view we're seeing in Paragraph 4."

"I liked the way you shifted from the dog's point of view to your brother's in Paragraph 3. That helped me understand the conflict between them—how the dog thought the brother was stealing its food, but the brother thought he was just saving the dog from a bad case of indigestion."

These comments are useful because they specify which aspect of the piece is working (at least for one reader) and give some idea where the writer might best spend time revising. 

Notice that useful feedback doesn't necessarily have to offer suggestions. It can merely observe, leaving the writer to work out solutions. Your feedback can build on the responses of others.

Creating a Supportive and Respectful Community

For six weeks we will work together as a creative writing community. In order for everyone to fully benefit from this course, as an individual and a community, it is necessary to establish policies and requirements. Well-reasoned, polite, and respectful disagreement is always welcome; indeed, one of the ways we can learn from one another is by sharing different perspectives; however, it is important that we all use good will when speaking and when writing feedback on our classmates’ work. If you choose to remain in this class, you are agreeing to follow the policies and procedures set forth in this Course Syllabus and to conduct yourself in a manner that fosters a supportive, safe, and positive learning environment.

Institutional Policies

Student Conduct

Students are subject to disciplinary action for several types of misconduct or attempted misconduct, including but not limited to dishonesty, such as cheating, multiple submission, plagiarism, or knowingly furnishing false information to the University; or theft or misuse of the intellectual property of others or violation of others' copyrights. Students are encouraged to familiarize themselves with policy provisions which proscribe these and other forms of misconduct at:

Services for Students with Disabilities

In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, UCLA Extension provides appropriate accommodations and support services to qualified applicants and students with disabilities. These include, but are not limited to, auxiliary aids/services such as sign language interpreters, assistive listening devices for hearing-impaired individuals, extended time for and proctoring of exams, and registration assistance. Accommodations and types of support services vary and are specifically designed to meet the disability-related needs of each student based on current, verifiable medical documentation. Arrangements for auxiliary aids/services are available only through UCLA Extension’s Service for Students with Disabilities Office at (310) 825-7851 or by email at [email protected]. For complete information see:


Your instructor may post the interim grade Incomplete/I if at the end of the class your overall work is of passing quality but a portion could not be submitted for understandable reasons (e.g. illness). It is your responsibility to petition your instructor for permission to submit work late and to provide an explanation, and it is his or her sole decision whether to accept the explanation. If permitted, the Incomplete/I grade will be posted and a time frame defined for you to submit the missing work, ranging from one to twelve weeks. Incomplete/I grades that remain unchanged after twelve weeks will lapse to F, NP or U. Receiving an I grade entitles you to submit only the missing work your instructor has agreed to accept late, and does not allow other work to be retaken or oblige UCLA Extension to provide continuing access to course materials via Canvas. The Incomplete/I grade is not an option for courses that do not bear credit, such as 700, 800, or 900-level courses. For complete information, see:

All Grades are Final

No change of grade may be made by anyone other than the instructor, and then, only to correct clerical errors. No term grade except Incomplete may be revised by re-examination. The correction of a clerical error may be authorized only by the instructor of record communicating directly with personnel of Student and Alumni Services.

Sexual Harassment

The University of California is committed to creating and maintaining a community where all individuals who participate in University programs and activities can work and learn together in an atmosphere free of harassment, exploitation, or intimidation. Every member of the community should be aware that the University prohibits sexual harassment and sexual violence, and that such behavior violates both law and University policy. The University will respond promptly and effectively to reports of sexual harassment and sexual violence, and will take appropriate action to prevent, to correct, and when necessary, to discipline behavior that violates our policy.

All Extension students and instructors who believe they have been sexually harassed are encouraged to contact the Department of Student and Alumni Services for complaint resolution: UCLA Extension, Suite 113, 10995 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Voice/TTY: (310) 825-7031. View the University’s full Policy on Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence at

Additional Items

About Your Online Course Materials

Please note the following about online course components at UCLA Extension:

  • Students must have basic computer skills, including the use of word processing software, email, and the ability to use internet browsers, such as Safari, Firefox, or Chrome.
  • Students are responsible for meeting the technical requirements of Canvas and familiarizing themselves with the Canvas Learning Management System.
  • Students are responsible for keeping a copy of all assignments and work submitted, and to be aware of all assignments, due dates, and course guidelines.
  • Students are encouraged to keep and/or download a local copy of their assignment files, as access to the online environment of a specific course is limited to 30 days after the final course date, as listed in the course catalog.

    If you need assistance downloading student materials from your course, please contact Canvas Support or the UCLA Extension Learning Support Team.

UCLA Extension Canvas and Learning Support

For immediate 24/7 Canvas technical support, including holidays, click on Help (located on the menu to the left) where you can call or chat live with a Canvas Support representative.

UCLA Extension Instructional Design and Learning Support
The UCLA Extension Learning Support staff assists both students and instructors with Canvas-related technical support, as well as general and administrative questions.

Learning Support staff is available Monday through Friday, from 8 AM to 5 PM (Pacific Time), except holidays:

Campus Safety Escorts

For students taking classes held on the UCLA campus and in and around Westwood Village, the UCLA Police Department provides a free walking escort service every day of the year from dusk until 1 a.m. Community Service Officers (CSOs) are available to walk students, faculty, staff members and visitors to and from anywhere on campus, in Westwood Village, and in the village apartments. CSOs are uniformed students who have received special training and are employed by the UCLA Police Department. To obtain an escort, please call (310) 794-9255 and allow 15 to 20 minutes for your escort to arrive. For complete information, see:


Course calendar and related activities
When Topic Notes
Breakout Session
Class 1


In-class writing exercise

Guest Leccture
Class 1

Laurel Ollstein, MFA, award-winning playwright whose play Cheese was published by Original Works Publishing. Ms. Ollstein’s work has been produced around the country, including Esther’s Moustache, Blackwell’s Corner, Insomniac, and The Dark Ages, among others. She is a former member of the Actor’s Gang,currently is an artistic associate of Playwrights Arena, and her essays have been published by and Tiny Lights: A Journal of Personal Narrative.

Instructor Statement

Writing can give us a sense of the world one person at a time. What I love about acting and writing is the permission it gives us to explore being in someone else’s shoes. Returning to the playfulness that was so accessible to us as children, can still be (and needs to be), accessed as artists. In my classes I try to create an atmosphere of playful chaos. That, coupled with energetic exploration and huge risk taking (with a comfortable net underneath) should provide the opportunity to write from your heart—later we’ll rewrite from the head. “A play’s like music—ephemeral, elusive, appearing, and disappearing all the time. No one ever left a Rolling Stone concert confused.” —Sam Shepard

Breakout Session
Class 2

Critique students' storytelling assignments from Class 1.

Guest Lecture
Class 2

Adam McOmber, MFA, author of My House Gathers DesiresStoriesThe White ForestA Novel, and This New & Poisonous Air. His stories have appeared in Conjunctions, Kenyon Review, and Fairy Tale Review.

Instructor Statement

My teaching is rooted in the memory of what it was to be a student. I try my best to honor my own excellent teachers by creating a class I would have been excited to take part in.  I believe that good writing is, at its source, an experiment. And I have great respect for the diverse experiments that students bring to my classroom.  In workshop, we approach each piece of writing with a sense of passion and discovery.  I put a high value on the continuity that workshop discussions offer, the feeling that we as members of the workshop become a kind of family.  Meeting each week to talk about craft and creativity is not only an honor, it’s also a great deal of fun.

Breakout Session
Class 3

Critique students' fiction assignments from Class 2.

Guest Lecture
Class 3
Creative Nonfiction

liz gonzalez, MFA, author of Dancing in the Santa Ana Winds: Poems y Cuentos New and Selected (Los Nietos Press). Ms. González’s work has appeared in Voices from Leimert Park Anthology ReduxWide Awake: The Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond; and the San Francisco Chronicle, among others. Her recent awards include a 2017 Residency at Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts and a 2016 Incite / Insight Award from the Arts Council for Long Beach for her work in the arts through Uptown Word & Arts where, as the director and founder, she promotes literacy and the arts.

Instructor Statement

In all the creative writing classes I have participated in, the instructors served as a facilitator and guide; they shared their knowledge and background in order to inform us and broaden our experience. As a whole, students and instructor, we created our own community of writers. I lead my writing classes with this same spirit. Together, we will create an interactive, supportive, and safe community. We will respect the diverse voices and experiences of everyone who attends, learn from each other, share our ideas and creative spirits, and inspire and encourage one another to grow as writers. For me, this is what working with a group is all about. Writing is the central focus of all the writing courses I instruct. The format of my writing courses consists of discussion, peer workshops, readings by diverse authors, presentations on strategies for writing, and in-class writing exercises.

Breakout Sessoin
Class 4

Critique students' creative nonfiction assignments from Class 3.

Guest Lecture
Class 4

Rachel Kann, MFA, author of the short story collection 10 for Everything. Ms. Kann also is an award-winning poet whose work has appeared in Word Warriors: 35 Women Leaders in the Spoken Word Revolution (Seal Press), and So Luminous the Wildflowers (Tebot Bach Press). She has performed her poetry at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Royce Hall, and the San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts.

Instructor Statement

I was a professional poet for nearly ten years, and taught poetry workshops for nearly five years, before I first had the luxury of attending a writing workshop as a student myself. That workshop was through the Community Access Program here at UCLA Extension. This roundabout route to the writing workshop process has given me a unique perspective. I feel lucky to be in writing workshops. I feel lucky to teach. Language is just a codification of symbols we use to represent what we mean in the hopes that we can make ourselves understood. I want you to feel safe to take risks in my workshops. I bring a sense of play to the work, I love teaching for the same reason I love writing. It’s the desire to connect with other humans. The desire to unlock the stories and poems from within, to feel connected with each other.

Breakout Session
Class 5

Critique students' poetry assignments from Class 4.


Guest Lecture
Class 5

Ron McCants, MFA, TV writer, playwright; WGA member who has written for Speechless. His plays have been produced in LA, New York and London. Ron’s been a writer for the Disney ABC Writing Program and recipient of multiple playwriting awards and the Fred Rogers Memorial Scholarship for children’s television.

Instructor Statement:

The most effective dramatic writing incorporates problem solving and self-discovery. We ask ourselves tough questions that can unearth deep shames, force us to reimagine how we choose to live and make us laugh big. In comedy and drama, the art will sometimes require writers to examine our own human experience or face an abyss to even find our voice. Because no one can give writers their voice or teach them the lyrics to their songs, my primary job is to help writers along their journey to finding their voice and encourage them to keep pressing in a safe, supportive environment. The secondary part of my job is to teach writers storytelling craft – structure, dialogue, research, and character development – so they have the tools to best tell the stories they wish to share. My hope is that writers under my instruction become inspired to tell authentic, expertly structured stories and learn the craft well enough to teach it themselves.

Breakout Session
Class 6

Critique students' screenwriting assignments from Class 5.

Guest Lecture
Class 6
Now What?

April Wayland, author of seven picture books, including More Than Enough: A Passover Story (Dial), It’s Not My Turn to Look for Grandma! (Knopf), and New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashanah Story (Dial), named Best Jewish Picture Book and winner of the Sydney Taylor Gold Book Award. Ms. Wayland won the Myra Cohn Livingston Award for Girl Coming In for a Landing: A Novel in Poems and has won seven poetry awards from the SCBWI. She is a recipient of the UCLA Extension Outstanding Instructor Award in Creative Writing.

Instructor Statement

The picture book, to me, is a miracle. It is the pairing of two worlds, the visual and verbal, to make an entirely different art form. Our art is in the language, the humor, the respect for our audience, and in the cutting away of all unnecessary words. We only get 650 words—850 max—to create the atmosphere, define characters, tell the story and get out. The energy in my classes runs somewhere between worship and exhilaration. Somewhere between voices singing the Messiah in an old church in England and six year olds jumping up and down and talking really fast because someone put a grasshopper in their pants and because it is so damned exciting. And it is exciting—to be on this road doing this thing, writing for kids. What could be more terrific than writing a picture book?