Write of Passage No. 1: Writers write

Shanon Sinn. Photo by Sarah Packwood.
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VIU students have been contributing to The Nav for 50 years now. During that time, they’ve also submitted to Omniverse, Stump, Shorelines, Atrevida, The Malaspina Review, and Portal. Some have even been published off campus—usually the result of entering a writing contest.

The Vancouver Island University—then named Malaspina College—Creative Writing program was established in 1989 with the mandate to “train the writers of the future [to] make significant contributions to culture.” Since then, waves of CREW students have graduated from VIUbut where are these “culture-contributing” writers today? Almost to the last one of them, VIU’s graduating students have vanished, never to be heard from again. And it’s the same story at other Canadian universities too. Wherever you go, you’ll soon learn that a Creative Writing Degree is bit of a joke.

You’ll see: when you graduate your friends and family will have a good laugh at your expense. Even your dog will chuckle condescendingly. And why shouldn’t they? A writer, you say. Now that’s a good one. I hate to tell you this, but you aren’t fooling anyone. We’re all imposters here, pretending we have what it takes to eventually become real-life writers.

I’m the biggest fake of all. I came to VIU at 40, after being medically released from the army, looking more like a convict than a reporter. I was sponsored for two years part-time and then had to pay my own way. I chose writing because it had always been a passion of mine. I also believed I’d always be able to write when I felt unhealthy, as many mornings are still difficult (the side effect of chemo from my “service related” cancer).

Last October, I published The Haunting of Vancouver Island, which has since become a BC Bestseller and is already in its third print. My blog has had as many as 7,000 visitors a day. I’ve won two creative writing awards at VIU and been published multiple times. I accomplished all of this as a complete fraud, because there was never a Plan B for me. And there shouldn’t be for you, either. What you do as a writing student at VIU will either set you on the course to success, or destroy your dreams.

I hear what I’ve accomplished is unusual for someone who is still a student. Being a student, though, means I get to share with youthrough The Nav—things that have worked for me and things I’ve seen work for others. That’s the purpose of this column: to pass along information not usually taught in the classroom.

Topics I’ll discuss in coming issues will include networking, branding, building your portfolio, social media, blogging, the discipline of writing, choosing electives strategically, awards, and contests.

If you’re a new writing student here, you should also know that our department Chair is Kathy Page, our student representative is Sarah Packwood, and our acting Dean is Marni Stanley. Student Union information can be found at viusu.ca.

Every month, I’ll also have a reading assignment for you. This one is easy. I want you to read something written by each of your CREW professors or instructors: an online poem, a blog post, or a few pages from a book at the bookstore or via Amazon preview. Most professors don’t self-promote, but it’s important you know your teachers’ areas of expertise, and maybe even their limitations. For how small our CREW department is, we have unbelievably accomplished professors and instructors. That gives you an advantage many writing students will never have, so embrace it.

Until next time.