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380528: Nonfiction: Essential Beginnings

  • Summer 2021
  • Section 1
  • 2 Credits
  • 07/28/2021 to 09/07/2021
  • Modified 07/26/2021

Meeting Times

  • Online

New lectures posted Wednesday. 

Class runs on a weekly basis, from Wednesday to Wednesday. Unless otherwise specified, all assignments are due before the following Wednesday.


Sometimes the best stories are true. To help you turn your personal experiences, anecdotes from everyday life, and family stories into compelling narratives, this workshop teaches beginning writers the basic elements of good storytelling. You learn how to excavate memories and discover fresh or unexpected facets of your life stories. Through weekly exercises, you generate new material and learn an array of fictional techniques to tell your nonfiction story, including how to play with voice, focus on a small unit of time, and describe landscape and character. By the course's completion, you have in hand a series of short sketches or a draft of a nonfiction piece.


This course is designed to teach beginning writers the skills necessary to write nonfiction stories, anecdotes and personal narratives. Students will learn in a supportive environment about the various forms of nonfiction writing and how to tell stories, develop ideas, use fictional techniques, use language with precision and clarity, structure stories, and even market your pieces. Students will practice skills by writing short pieces every week, using prompts and techniques learned in class, and/or develop a longer personal essay.


By the end of this course, successful students will be able to:

  • write several short pieces
  • develop ideas
  • tell a coherent story
  • use fiction techniques to develop stories
  • learn how to edit your work
  • learn how to submit articles
  • have several short pieces of writing


For supplemental reading, the books listed below are suggested, but not required.

Writer’s Market

  • Author: Robert Lee Brewer
  • Publisher: Writer's Digest Books
  • Edition: 2017
  • ISBN: 1440347735
  • Optional
  • Availability: campus bookstore; Amazon

This books lists details on what publications are buying submission guidelines, etc. 

Writer's Digest Handbook of Magazine Article Writing

  • Author: Michelle Ruberg
  • Publisher: Writer's Digest Books
  • Edition: 2nd
  • ISBN: 1582973342
  • Optional
  • Availability: campus bookstore, elsewhere

A good, all-purpose guide to magazine writing.

The Elements of Style

  • Author: William Strunk Jr.
  • Publisher: Pearson
  • Edition: 4th
  • ISBN: 020530902X
  • Optional
  • Availability: campus bookstore, elsewhere

This is a classic. Every writer should have this book. 


You can take this course for a letter grade or on a Pass/Fail or No Grade basis.

When requested, grades will be based on: timely completion of writing exercises (70%), and participation in weekly discussions (30%). Regular participation is expected.

When you enrolled in the course, you were asked to indicate whether you wanted to take the class for a grade or not. If you did NOT select an option, the choice defaulted to a letter grade. It is possible you are unwittingly taking the class for a grade, so double check your status to make sure it reflects your intention.

You may request a grading status change anytime before the midpoint of this class by phoning the Registrar’s Office at (310) 825-9971 or requesting a grading status change online by logging into “MyExtension” at After the midpoint of this class (but before the instructor’s submission of final course grades) you should ask for the instructor’s approval of a status change.

Grades, should you desire them, will be based on written assignments (10 points for each of 5 written assignments, 20 points for the last assignment, for a total of 70 points); and class participation (30 points).

Letter grades will be assigned as follows:

A = 90 - 100 points

B = 80 - 89 points

C = 70 – 79 points

F =  69 or lower 

Assignments are generally due by the next class session, unless otherwise noted. Meeting deadlines is critical in the professional writing world. Editors hate missed deadlines – so do I.

Late work: All late work requires my approval to receive credit. This means we must have a conversation before the assignment is late. Work that is not turned in receives no credit. Work turned in late without permission receives no credit and will not be commented on. Work that is turned in early in anticipation of an absence will receive full credit. Discussion posts and responses to students submitted after the deadlines will not receive credit.

Because each of the writing assignments builds on previous assignments, it is essential that you meet your deadlines. Two points will be deducted for each late assignment. 

Attendance and Participation: Good participation is demonstrated through regular and thoughtful contributions to the weekly discussions, writing workshops, and in-class exercises. I expect timely and professional communication with both fellow students and myself throughout the quarter.

Course documents will be posted online via Canvas. It will be up to you to read and, if desired, to print online documents. These are for class use only and not to be distributed

Course Policies

Workshoping Guidelines

What you can expect from me: Recognizing that students come to a class with a variety of needs, experiences, and learning styles, my intention is to strive to meet those needs and make this a successful learning experience for everyone.

A writing class is a creative community, where we share and encourage our fellow students in a supportive, caring, and kind spirit; a community in which everyone’s voice is heard and respected. I strive to foster a classroom spirit in which students feel respected and valued, no matter the level of their writing – or life – experiences. I often learn as much from my students as they do from me, and that’s a wonderful place to be. Every new class gives me another opportunity to learn from you.

Everyone has a unique story to tell, and I love the wide range of life experiences each student brings to a class. Just coming into a classroom is often the bravest step, and I admire that!

I strive to make students comfortable, to trust me with your stories, to be open to learning from others. Your voice is important. Students will share their personal stories, some of which are very personal, indeed, but if there is ever a problem with a class discussion, an assignment, or materials presented in class, my door – well, my email – is always open for a two-way dialogue. You may also discuss any uncomfortable issues with the UCLA program rep, whose email can be found at the top of the syllabus.  


What I expect from you: Class participation, primarily through in-class and on-line discussion, is part of your grade. Please observe proper work shop etiquette: Be kind. Be constructive.

When commenting on someone’s work:

-- State what you like about a piece along with any constructive suggestions for improvements, or questions. Be a careful, considerate reader/listener.

-- Focus on the technical aspects of the work. For instance, is there something that is not clear? Ask for clarification. Are there details that are missing? Ask for those details.

-- Always assume this is a draft, a work-in-progress and react accordingly, looking at ways to improve the next draft.

-- (I shouldn’t have to say this, but:) There will be no personal attacks, insults, or harassment of any kind.

-- Feedback is most helpful if it makes specific points. It is least helpful when it deals in generalizations. For example:

Example 1 – These comments are NOT helpful:

"Your piece is great."

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

These comments are not helpful because they are uninformative; they leave the writer nothing specific to work on.

Example 2 – These comments are helpful:

"Your lead was strong and pulled me right into the story.”

 “I liked the description in the scene – I felt as if I could see it.”

 “I was confused about who was talking.”

 “Can you describe what the place looked like? What made it so scary?”

 “What exactly did she do that made you change your mind?”

Ask specific questions:  “What was the time frame? How old were you? When did your father die? What type of dog was it? How small was your house?”

These are better, because they help the writer focus on the specifics in a story.

Formatting guidelines for online classes:

There are three main components in the online class: Modules, where I will post my pithy notes week-by-week; Assignments, where you will find weekly assignments and the grading rubric; and Discussions, where you also find the assignment and where you will post your writings, which I will edit. I will post the edits in the discussions folder. I believe we can learn by learning from others. I encourage you to reach out to your fellow students as well. All comments are done in a supportive, caring, and kind spirit. 

Formatting guidelines for in-person classes: All work submitted for this course should be typed, double-spaced, in 12 point conventional font, such as Times New Roman, with numbered pages. Remember to put your name on every page.

When posting or emailing your assignment,  do not submit a pdf.

The Writers’ Workshop

Instruction in the Writers’ Program follows the guidelines established by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) guidelines for the teaching of creative writing, which include a “challenging writers’ workshop” as a hallmark. They define this as

…a seminar in which students critique one another’s work under the mentorship of an accomplished writer-teacher. The workshop is writing intensive, offering each student multiple opportunities for submission and revision of creative work. (AWP)

This method of instruction is considered the gold standard for developing writers at all levels of expertise, and workshopping is a key learning tool in nearly every course offered by the Writers’ Program. Workshopping teaches you to read and respond to written work from a variety of perspectives, and hearing critique of your own writing will help you understand how successfully your work achieves your goals. Every student is expected to participate fully in workshopping activities as defined by and guided by Writers’ Program instructors.

Scope of Work for Instructors

Each Writers’ Program instructor has signed an agreement to teach the curriculum in their course, following a syllabus of their own design with approval by the Writers’ Program director. Instructors are never obligated to read, review, critique, respond to, or otherwise address student work that has not been developed for their course or in response to specific assignments in their course. Individualized instruction like this falls into the category of a consultation, which is a separate service your instructor can provide through special arrangement with the Writers’ Program.

Underage Students

As UCLA's principal provider of continuing education, the majority of UCLA Extension courses are designed for the post-baccalaureate professional-level student. Enrollment is therefore normally reserved for adult students 18 years of age and older. The Writers’ Program may consent to enroll younger students based on special academic competence and approval of the instructor. Minors who enroll in a Writers’ Program course without first receiving permission from both the department and the instructor are subject to withdrawal. To request approval, please contact the Writers’ Program at 310-825-9415.

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

Protecting Privacy and Data During Live Instruction

Live meeting sessions for this class, when applicable, are being conducted over Zoom. As the host, the instructor may be recording live sessions. Only the host has the ability to record meetings, no recording by other means is permitted. Recorded sessions will be posted in the Videos area of this class unless otherwise notified. Due to privacy, recordings are not available for download and are only accessible via Canvas for the duration of the class. If you have privacy concerns and do not wish to appear in the recording, do not turn on your video and/or audio. If you also prefer to use a pseudonym instead of your name, please let the instructor know what name you will be using so that the instructor knows who you are during the session. To rename yourself during a Zoom meeting, click on Participants, click on your name, click on More, click on Rename. If you would like to ask a question, you may do so privately through the Zoom chat by addressing your chat question to the instructor only (and not to ""everyone""). Additionally, chat may be used and moderated for live questions, and saving of chats is enabled. If you have questions or concerns about this, please contact the instructor via Canvas Inbox.

Pursuant to the terms of the agreement between Zoom and UCLA Extension, the data is used solely for this purpose and Zoom is prohibited from re-disclosing this information. UCLA Extension also does not use the data for any other purpose. Recordings will be deleted when no longer necessary. However, recordings may become part of an administrative disciplinary record if misconduct occurs during a video conference.

Course and Instructor Evaluation

UCLA Extension values your feedback on course and instructor evaluations. We ask all students to take a few minutes to complete an end-of-course evaluation survey. Updates to the course and instruction are influenced by your feedback. Understanding your student experience is essential to ensure continuing excellence in the online classroom and is appreciated by your instructor and the UCLA Extension academic leadership.

Your participation in a survey is voluntary, and your responses are confidential. After instructors submit grades, they will be given an evaluation report, but this report will not contain your name.

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:


Class  weeks begins on Wednesday. Unless otherwise specified, assignments are to be posted before the following Wednesday. 

 *WEEK 1 – Overview of nonfiction writing; needs assessment

 *WEEK 2 –  Elements of good story telling; narrative nonfiction

 *WEEK 3 –  The personal essay and memoir

 *WEEK 4 –  Developing ideas; editing tips 

 *WEEK 5 –  Query letter and the business of writing

 *WEEK 6 –  Last class! The business of writing, contracts, etc.

Course calendar and related activities
When Module Title Notes
Week 1 class meeting
Week 1 July 28, 2021
Overview of nonfiction writing

WEEK 1: Introduction; skills and needs assessment; overview of what we’ll be doing; writing goals. Meet your classmates.

We will look at the different types of nonfiction writing, such as profile, how to, retrospective, service, interview, memoir, research/fact‑based, Q&A, travel, true‑life crime, personal essay, trades, online writing, blogs, consumer magazines, newspapers (yes, there are still newspapers), the internet, etc.

 What interests you? What do you want to write? Do you want to publish your writing or just write for personal satisfaction? What type of writing have you done? Do you have any story ideas? What do you want to learn? What are your goals?

1. Homework assignment 1, week 1: Write a short (100-300) word bio. You may write it in first person, third person, as-told-to, etc.; you may quote yourself, etc. Also, tell me what you hope to learn in this class. You'll see there are prompts on the discussion board to help you! Please post this to the discussions board before the second class meeting. Please read and comment on other student posts. This gives me a chance to know you; gives you a writing warm-up.) (10 points)

2. Homework assignment 2, week 1: Read the notes about anecdotes, then write a short (100-300 anecdote) and post to the discussion board "anecdotes." (10 points)

Students, please become familiar with this online format. There are two main components: Modules, where I will post my pithy notes week-by-week; and Discussions, where I will post your writing assignment for the week and where YOU will post your writings, which I will edit. Feel free to post comments on other student work (see workshopping section in syllabus for workshop rules.)  

Week 2 class meeting
Week 2, Aug. 4, 2021
Elements of good story telling

WEEK 2 – Elements of good story telling.

 Applying fiction techniques to nonfiction writing; finding your voice; setting a tone; finding the details; focusing your story; using description, time, place, and character to tell a story. Point of view. Types of story starters (anecdotes, scenic, chronological, etc).

 Homework assignment week 2: Write a 200 to 500 word piece (using some of the techniques discussed in my notes!) This can be an anecdote about something that happened to you, and can be a stand alone piece or part of a longer article, essay, or memoir. You will be given a choice of prompts to get you started. (10 points)

Week 3 Class Meeting
Week 3, Aug. 11, 2021
The personal essay and memoir

WEEK 3: The personal essay and memoir.

 What is a personal essay? A memoir? What are some of the rules of this form? What are the pros and cons of writing such personal stories? Excavating memories to spark your writing; avoiding pitfalls.

 Read and discuss the essays posted on Canvas.

 Homework assignment week 3: Write a 400-900 word personal essay from one of the prompts,  using some of the techniques discussed in class. This can be a stand alone piece or part of a longer article, essay, or memoir. You will be given a choice of prompts to get you started, or you may work on your own idea. (10 points)

Week 4 Class meeting
Week 4, Aug. 18, 2021
Developing ideas; editing tips

WEEK 4:  Developing ideas; editing, rewriting, bashing writer’s block.

As we learned in Week 1, there are many types of nonfiction writing. This week we will explore some other types of nonfiction writing. We will look at: Where do we get story ideas? How do we develop ideas into articles? How to slant ideas for different publications. Brainstorming ideas. 

Assignment: Come up with at three story ideas for a nonfiction article (not an essay!).  Prompts will show you techniques for brainstorming. Post in discussion board Week 4: Developing ideas. Respond to other student postings (very important). (10 points)

(This is also a good week to re-write, edit or work on your previous work, if desired.) 

Week 5, Query Letter, etc.
Week 5, Aug 25, 2021
Query Letter and the business of writing

Week 5: Writing the query letter; what editors want.

Also: Learning to find your voice; structure of a story; adding details; spicing up your prose pot; endings; painting a word picture; using description; using the five senses in writing; developing characters. Finding your focus. You have two options for this week's assignment. Pick one. Assignment worth 10 points.

 Homework assignment week 5: Write a query letter using the techniques discussed in class notes. 

Alternative assignment: Write a 300-900 word article using the techniques discussed in class. This can be a stand alone piece or part of a longer article, essay, or memoir. You will get a choice of prompts to get you started. 

Last Class
Week 6, Sept. 1, 2021
The business of writing. Marketing, writing the query letter, and more

WEEK 6 – LAST CLASS : The business of writing.  Marketing, the query letter, and more.

Contracts; copyright; selling your rights; marketing tips – where can you send your article? Building a specialty. What is a query letter? Why do we need it? How do we write it? 

Post any last minute questions! Revise and edit previous assignments, including a query letter, if you feel the urge.

Post anything new on the discussion board by 6 p.m., PT, Sept. 7. Nothing accepted after 6 p.m. on that date. (no grade)