Words with Writers: Creative Writing Graduates & Lessons Learnt

‘What does it qualify you to do?’, ‘But what will you do as a real job?’, ‘Surely that’s just your hobby?’

It’s safe to say, when it comes to doubt about the creative arts, creative writing students have heard it all… But now, in the wake of Ken Robinson’s famous TED Talk on creativity and education (which we discuss here), the subject has been one of hot debate over the last few months. Whether it’s been from parent to child, student to lecturer or fellow creative to creative, the crucial thing is, that it has become an ongoing discussion.

Image Credit: University of Wollongong
Image Credit: University of Wollongong

You only need to look at the University of Wollongong celebrating 30 years of creative arts here, or newspapers commending the successes of previous CA students here, to realise that the creative arts are no longer being swept under the carpet and discouraged as they once were.

With an array of experienced and knowledgeable mentors, and a diversity in subjects that is truly rare for such a tight niche, the University of Wollongong offers one of the most extensive creative writing courses in Australia. Writers Edit thought it was about time someone asked the graduates. We wanted their opinions on choosing a tertiary education in the creative arts, what their most valuable lessons were and how they made the most of (if they did) their specialised training. We spoke to three of UOW’s previous students: Harrison Engstrom, Lorin Elizabeth Reid and Melanie Doncas, in an attempt to offer you, our readers, the lessons they learnt, and to reassure you, that the creative arts and their success, are well and truly alive.

Spoken word poet, Lorin Reid performs at a Poetry Slam.
Spoken word poet, Lorin Reid performs at a Poetry Slam.
Image Credit: Jason Denison

Recently sponsored by her faculty to attend the UOW Students4Students National Leadership Conference, and currently one of the most talked-about Slam Poetry performers in Sydney and the South Coast, Lorin Reid says of her Creative Writing degree, “I discovered that community is everything. Having your work edited by peers or successful writers/professors is paramount and accepting constructive criticism is a sure way to improve.”

While Harrison Engstrom, having just finished up work as a writer for a huge political campaign and currently working as a Pop Culture Journalist says his most valuable lesson was: [quote]Structure is king. If you don’t have a structure or an idea that can work within a structure, you better justify every single turn and twist you take. Everyone knows the hero is going to fail before the end only to be given another chance, but what if he doesn’t? What if he just has to wait out the next 3 years and pay back all the debt he racked up on this adventure?”[/quote]

Annabella Whispers Photography
Whim Online Magazine, founded by Creative Writing graduate, Melanie Doncas.
Image Credit: Annabella Whispers Photography

After having taken part in the production and publication of UOW’s annual literary magazine Tide, Melanie Doncas has gone on to found her own online magazine, and says of her editing class: “Seeing how much hard work and planning goes into a publication was invaluable. Since starting an online magazine and website, I often think back to this process for guidance.”

All three writers voiced things they would have done differently, “I would have utilised work experience and intern positions whilst studying creative writing, (at the time) I had very little hands-on experience working professionally in the industry,” said Melanie. Harrison was concerned with his lack of reading throughout the three years; “I wish I’d gained better skills to read and enjoy books. There is so much I could have probably learned from Conrad or Carroll or Woolf.” Meanwhile, Lorin observed, “I didn’t connect well enough with professors, I did assessments last minute… However, I met one of my closest friends and spoken word partner-in-crime, Sherry Landow, through the degree and we’ve definitely made the most of our meeting… I have no regrets, every choice that I’ve made during that degree has indirectly led me to where I am now.”

Usually one of the loudest concerns people have about education and creative arts, is what do the graduates go on to do? Can they actually get a ‘real job’? Though we won’t deny there aren’t challenges involved, a couple of years on from their creative writing degrees, each of our graduates is on the fast-track to success. See for yourself.

Lorin Elizabeth Reid, Spoken Word Poet & Co-founder of Enough Said (Wollongong’s Monthly Poetry Slam)

Lorin is the Co-founder and organiser of Enough Said, Wollongong’s monthly poetry slam. The event, hosted at the quaint Yours & Owls bar (recently renamed Rad, under new management) on Crown Street, has developed an admired following and has introduced many of us to this inspiring genre of performance poetry.

Lorin also writes her own poetry and performs her rhymes in and around Wollongong and Sydney. She’s also been recognised with a ‘highly commended’ at the Sydney heat of the 2012 Australian Poetry Slam as well as won the September 2012, and May 2013 Words in Hands slams in Glebe, Sydney. Following her early success, she has since participated in the Bankstown Poetry Slam as a featured poet.

Currently, Lorin is collaborating with high schools, offering poetry workshops and spreading the culture of spoken word. After Lorin’s recent raw and captivating performance poetry at Café Lounge, Surry Hills, she spoke to Writer’s Edit of her goals:

I want to collaborate with other artists more. I’ve done a big project called Street Talk with street artists and it was amazing. I’m keen to get some musicians on board and one day develop my own show/album/book and do a bit of touring!”

Melanie Doncas, Founding Editor of Whim Online Magazine

Having always had a great love for beautiful magazines, Melanie, after having graduated from her Creative Writing degree at UOW, began a degree in Journalism. Since then, she has become the Founding Editor of Whim Online Magazine, collaborating with writers, photographers and artists from all walks of life to produce an inspiring and beautiful publication.

My real focus will be Whim Online Magazine. I feel as though this is what I am most passionate about. The next few months will see the third digital edition of Whim released (the Summer Issue), and we are currently working towards making the future issues of Whim available in print!”

Publishing quarterly, seasonal issues, Whim aims to introduce its readers to emerging artists of all kinds, with a real emphasis on fashion, photography and art. Check out the Spring Issue here.

Harrison Engstrom, Pop Culture Journalist & TV Writer

With a background in screenwriting, communications and media, Harrison has worked as a Pop Culture Journalist and a digital strategist since completing his Creative Writing degree. Having just finished up working on the digital aspect of a massive political campaign, Harrison is now focusing on his writing projects.

I am currently working on two projects. The first is a pseudo-biographical comedy about a Melbourne girl who is trying to find love as a cosplayer and video game journalist. The second is a pilot about a group of time travellers seeking asylum in different timelines all being pursued by a temporal police agency.”

Harrison also blogs at Too Long; Didn’t Write.

Writer’s Edit would like to thank Lorin, Melanie and Harrison for taking the time to speak with us. We hope that you, our readers have found their stories inspirational and that you keep a look out for our future ‘Words with Writers’.

Helen Scheuerer

Helen Scheuerer is a novelist from Sydney, and the Founding Editor of Writer's Edit. She has a Bachelor of Creative Arts from the University of Wollongong and a Masters in Publishing from The University of Sydney. Her #1 bestselling YA fantasy novel, Heart of Mist is available now. You can grab your copy here. She also chronicles her writing process and current work over at www.helenscheuerer.com.

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