The Perks and Perils of the Writing Department

The Writing department is a great place for inspiring writers and anyone interested in the art form. As a third year student in the department, I’ve had a great time, but have run into some difficulties as you might imagine. I thought it might be a good idea to give an idea of what the perks and perils of the Writing department might be for new or future students.

Perks:

wr_joan-macleod-with-playwriting-students1. Small Classes – Past Writing 100, your workshops will be made up of about fifteen people depending on your genre and enrollment. These intimate classrooms can become a family of sorts. You’ll learn to trust the people around you, learn their styles, and be able to play in a safe environment under the guidance of a skilled teacher.

2. Learn New Skills – You may think you know every simple thing about being a good writer. I certainly thought I at least knew the basics. But writing classes at UVic will teach you new basics and new problems to look for in your writing. From words you probably use too much to how to pack the three Ps into one sentence, you’ll learn to improve your writing in ways you never thought possible.

3. Practical Experience – Practical experience in a Fine Arts degree, yeah right. But UVic has you covered. There is a co-op program for the Writing department and plenty of opportunities on campus, such as internships at The Malahat Review (given only on the recommendation of your professor) and positions at This Side of West (which can be applied to like any other job). These opportunities allow you to feel stable and safe within a program historically built around the instability of an artist’s life.

Perils:

wr_student-magazines1. Literary Fiction – The fiction department is strictly literary fiction. Genre fiction (ie. fantasy, sci-fi, YA) is frowned upon in any way, shape, and form. Of course, there are differences among professors for what they’ll accept, but for the most part it’s literary fiction only, nothing commercial. However, you might find it fun to try something new and the skills you learn through literary fiction can be applied to any genre you wish to write.

  • What is literary fiction? Literary fiction refers to anything character-driven. Genre fiction can be literary, but are more susceptible to tropes, like the ever-important love triangle. For the most part, what your profs mean by literary fiction is anything that focuses on character as the vehicle of plot. Historically, this is the “depressed person in a bad marriage” writing, but there are many different ways to write literary fiction.
  • Options – A lot of the writing options are less strict about literary fiction. If in your fiction workshop you’re confined to literary fiction, you might be able to explore your love for genre in a Forms + Techniques in the Novel course or your love for YA in the Writing For Children and Young Adults course. Workshops are not the be all and end all of the Writing department, although they will be your hardest and most challenging courses.

2. No Job Security – The program doesn’t promise you’ll get famous, can’t make you famous, and focuses you on the type of fiction that makes the least money. You have to be comfortable with instability to be a writer. You have to need to write to dedicate your university program to writing. But if writing is the right place for you, the program will be invaluable.

3. Writing 100 – This course, the requirement for first year, is notoriously hard. While the professor teaching it does their best to teach you the basics, they fail to tell you what the TAs will actually mark you on. This information all comes in second year and then you’ll see, quite clearly, where you went wrong in first year. Also, you’re required to get at least a B+ in the course and the marking is so hard, so subjective.

The course itself is a fight to get through. It’ll make you question your decision to come into the program, your skill as a writer, and your entire plan for your life. The thing to remember is that this is a course on the basics. Take away from it what you can, but don’t let it control your life. Writing 100 is designed to weed out those who aren’t dedicated to their work and to push you past what you think writing is. It’ll be hard on you, but the rest of the program is worth it.

There are many more things I could talk about in relation to the Writing department, but it’s best to stop there. This post gives you an outline of some problems you might face in your first years or throughout your degree, as well as what’s good about going through the Writing program. Hopefully this has helped you make a decision and good luck in the Writing department.

writing-studentsfromjohn

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