Graduating as a Writer: Now What?

By Murissa Shalapata

Last week I graduated with a double major in creative writing and art history from the University of British Columbia, Okanagan campus. Since classes ended in April I've had this looming pressure to write, that if I don't begin to write my novel I never will. I was finally released from this feeling when I received my degree and it seems the creativity process has also become slightly easier, although I can't say I have heard the same from my fellow graduates. Many of us are left asking, Now what? Here is a game plan for those of us who want to stay in the loop and continue having a supportive writing community. I may also add that I am or have been following this very list and am speaking from experience. So far I can say it is working!

1. Write

This probably is obvious but you gotta put the time in! Everyone's schedule is different. I seem to be most creative at nights or on Mondays when I have the house to myself on my day off. I usually write in pages of 10 or so and max out after that. But ten pages each week is better than 0! Figure out what time and days you are feeling most creative or you have free time to spend on writing. Doesn't matter if you have thirty minutes a day or one night a week, you just gotta get yourself producing and practicing until you create something you are proud of. Blogging is also a way to stay creative and keep writing while following a deadline that you set for yourself.
I know the feeling of not knowing what to write about despite the craving to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) but there are so many books/websites out there that provide writing prompts and inspiration. I've provided a list at the bottom of this post.
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2. Read

I mean this in two different senses. To be a good writer you need to be a reader first. Find out what styles and genres interest you. It is also a good idea to discover new genres and writers. I just recently researched travel writing and found that it really was not for me despite writing a food and travel blog. I found it was informative and lacked strong narratives to keep me engaged. When there was a narrative I found the writer lacked a talent for words and an enjoyable literary quality.

I also mean that you should become involved with your local writers and organize/participate in readings throughout the community. I know reading in front of a crowd can be nauseating but it promotes your work, you can mingle with potential publishers/colleagues/fans etc., and gain popularity within the community and local book stores. Reading is more an important than I once thought and it shouldn't be underestimated when you are first starting out or even when you become published.
Also keep in mind that there is nothing worse that hearing/seeing a writer read their work badly. This happened when I saw Matt Rader read his poems with a piece of gum in his mouth and a terrible mumble that muted his powerful poems.
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3. Enter Contests

It is tough to make it as a writer so every penny counts. And money you "win" with your own writing is sweeter than Disneyland ice cream. An invaluable tool where you can find contests, both international and local is called You can also find writing jobs here and contests worth various prizes ranging from $1000 to publicity. I entered subTerrain for a chance to be published as an upcoming writer within the Okanagan and I got it! Along with being published in a Canadian literary magazine I get a free copy and to read my work before an audience at the local library (June 28th, 7:00pm @Kelowna Regional Library). It may not be a thousand bucks but it could lead to a publication opportunity one day. When I sent in my poems to be published I really doubted I would be accepted but I did and I am sure you could too!
Find me in issue #61 at your local Canadian book store.

I'd love to hear if you have any more advice that has worked for you! Let us all know and help keep Joanna's supportive online community thriving!

Reading List:

Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose
Tell it Slant: Writing and Shaping Creative Non-Fiction Edited by Brenda Miller with contributions by various writers (one of my favourites and introduced me to fun lyric essays)
Story by Robert McKee (amazing for all story tellers not just screenwriters)
The Journey Prize Stories (New edition each year and helped me wrap my mind around what makes a great short story)
On Writing by Stephen King (I may not like his writing ever since I hear he writes for those who read at a 4th grade level but he has some great advice!)
How to Write a Sentence by Stanley Fish (funny and helpful!)
Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing by Margaret Atwood
The Write Brain Workbook: 366 Exercises to Liberate Your Writing by Bonnie Neubauer

Murissa Shalapata writes for her food and travel based blog, The Wanderfull Traveler and articles for Vecu Magazine, an online publication. She is published in subTerrain, a Canadian literary magazine (issue #61, 2012) and various small chapbooks created at UBC Okanagan. She graduated this June (2012) with a double major in creative writing and art history and was awarded the Creative and Critical Faculty of Art History Prize worth $1000. She is currently living in the Okanagan where writes poetry, stories, her blog and her first novel.


  1. Murissa. Congrats on the Double Major!! The only thing I can add to this is
    everyone has to work but if you love what you are doing, you will never work again.

    you got to love having that Monday off.....very rare.


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