With outposts in Los Angeles and San Francisco, Writing Pad offers courses and workshops designed to immerse students in the art and craft of writing, and to prepare them to sell what they produce. The company’s City branch, which opened last fall, is located in the founding couple’s The Goodman Building loft, a live-work space at 18th and Arkansas streets.
Writing Pad is the brainchild of Marilyn Friedman and her husband, Jeff Bernstein. Ten years ago, Friedman — who has since led workshops at such venues as Pixar, Walt Disney Studios, and the Southern California Writers Conference — was a fledgling author searching for a worthwhile writing class in Los Angeles. Friends encouraged her to start her own. Writing Pad was born in the couple’s downtown LA living room in 2005. It now boasts a second, Westwood, storefront location and a growing roster of instructors. More than 5,000 students have passed through its doors.
“There’s something very special when you actually get to interact with a successful writer and you get somebody who actually cares about mentoring you and [helping you] break yourself open creatively,” stated Friedman. “We scoured the SF and Oakland and Berkeley areas for the best possible people to do that.”
Writing Pad welcomes everyone, from newbies to working writers. “Some people want to take a writing class just to explore themselves creatively, and some people want to get published,” noted Friedman. “We’ve helped 77 of our students sell essays and articles so far, and we’ve helped several people get literary agents for their books. About 25 people have published short stories.” A number of storytelling students have been featured on National Public Radio.
“When the students are ready with an essay, and the [teacher] knows an editor that might be interested in that piece, they have to connect them,” said Bernstein. ”That’s part of our philosophy and our mission. If a teacher isn’t interested in that, and doesn’t have that kind of generosity of spirit, we’re not interested.”
“We want to make sure that when people come in, they’ll walk away actually knowing how to write a short story,” stated Friedman, a freelance writer and teacher, whose essays, stories and op-eds have appeared on salon.com, Narratively, and The Frisky, among other publications, and whose poetry has been published in Pearl, Squaw Valley Review, California Quarterly, and elsewhere. Bernstein is a writer and visual artist whose paintings adorn the couple’s Potrero Hill loft, and whose stories have been featured on LA radio station KCRW.
Courses in personal essay, memoir, poetry, blogging, novel, scriptwriting, storytelling, short story, and picture book development are available. Workshops on finding an agent and getting published are on the schedule as well. The school offers real time online classes – using web conferencing software – that’ve attracted students from as far away as Qatar, Australia and England. Courses run from one to six meetings.
Each of this fall’s two storytelling classes, led by The Moth’s San Francisco host Corey Rosen, will culminate in an evening performance at the Thick House, also located in The Goodman Building, this month. Picture-book students may find themselves presenting their efforts to a group of young children at the final class meeting.
A typical class begins with “fun…writing exercises intended to explore some aspect of craft” said Friedman, followed by a brief lecture that focuses on the skills explored in the opening exercise(s). After a break, “the class concludes with balanced group workshopping, in which students read aloud the work they’ve generated in the class and get suggestions for next steps,” she said. The process is facilitated by Writing Pad staff, as well as the cozy, living-room atmosphere and “plenty of tasty snacks and hot and iced teas.”
Aware that presenting one’s work to a group might seem daunting, the school has procedures to promote a sense of ease and safety. “We have very specific guidelines in regards to how students’ work is discussed in the classroom, which keeps the tone positive, productive, and supportive,” declared Friedman.
Writing Pad’s roster includes award-winning screenwriters, novelists, essayists and journalists. “We spend weeks researching writers, looking at their credentials, checking out their websites, reading their work, and evaluating whether or not they would be a good fit,” said Friedman. “Typically, we spend about six hours with each teacher…we cover classroom basics and class planning, then we have the teacher visit a class to see how things run.”