We asked our Senior Editor, Beth Mushumanski, and Campus Correspondent, Emma de Blois, to give us the low-down on what it’s like to be a writing student at UVic. Here’s what they said.
What is your year and major?
Beth: I am in my fourth year of a BA double major in creative writing and English. My specialization is poetry, but I’m also in fiction workshops.
Emma: I am in my fourth year of a BFA in writing and a minor in film studies. My specialization is screenwriting, but I also love writing creative non-fiction.
Why did you decide to major in writing?
B: I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a child. My high school English teacher went to UVic and told me about the writing program there. I knew immediately that it was the right call for me!
E: There’s a certain level of “f-ck it” that makes a person choose to study writing in university. It isn’t a teachable subject like English, so you’re not on track for a career as an educator and it’s a hard business to succeed in (and more of a lottery than anything). But the one thing I’ve always loved to do is write, and you really only live once, so here I am!
Best class in your program?
B: The workshops are amazing and by far the most useful classes I’ve taken, but elective-wise, I really enjoyed WRIT 406, which is Writing for Children. The professor knew a lot about the publishing industry and had a lot of practical advice. We also got to write the first 25 pages of a YA or middle-grade novel for the class. As someone who’s more interested in long forms than short forms, I enjoyed getting to try my hand at writing a novel.
E: This is almost impossible to answer because there are so many good ones, but when you’re choosing electives for writing, look for ones that will give you practical skills. I can’t mention all of them, but my most recent favourites are WRIT 326: Media Production for Writers. It’s a crash course in everything from photography to sound editing to lighting for film. You walk away with a portfolio of work that you will be proud of and the skills that might just get you a job!
Something you wish you’d known before you started your degree?
B: You’re only just beginning your writing journey! You’ll grow so much as a person and as a writer in university. It’s okay to look back at a piece you wrote a few months before and dislike it.
E: You don’t need to be a fiction writer! You probably don’t even want to be a fiction writer. Writing is so much more than short stories and novels, and as much as I like reading them, I am bad at writing them.
Any words of wisdom for people getting started?
B: Don’t feel threatened by other talented writers. The writing program is not a competition, and you’ll learn more from the other students if you just allow yourself to admire them openly. Not to mention that workshop environments quickly turn toxic if people are judgemental.
E: Workshops are scary, but they aren’t as bad as they sound. It takes vulnerability from everyone for a workshop to be successful, and that vulnerability will build trust between you and your peers. Even though you might love what you’ve handed in, the critiques they give you are probably going to be helpful. They might spark great ideas for you! Or, they won’t, and in that case, you can just ignore that advice.