On November 25, UTM Scribes brought together six writers from several areas of the writing industry for the Writer’s Career Panel located in Spigel Hall. The Writer’s Career Panel featured six panelists: technical writer Amir Ahmed, digital content writer Taylor Patterson, novelist SJ Sindu, screenwriter Courtney McCallister, news reporter Adrian Ma, and UTM professor and poet Dr. Geoff Bouvier. The panel commenced at 5:00 p.m. with a discussion lead by event hosts, followed by a Q&A from the audience.
SJ Sindu is the award-winning author of Marriage of a Thousand Lies. Primarily a novelist and short-story writer, Sindu holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from Florida State University. Currently working as an assistant professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough, Sindu was passionate about coding and did it in her free time, building websites and developing web program. In an attempt to turn her passion into a career, Sidhu said the passion drained out of her “the moment there was a client.” She hated dealing with client requests. Sidu eventually made a career out of her other passion, writing, and didn’t lose the enthusiasm for it. She added, “[B]eing a novelist, there’s no real client I’m working for, there’s no one whose vision for my work is being subjected upon.”
Taylor Patterson is a Toronto based digital content writer who is also the creator of the award-winning comedy digital series Northwood. He graduated from Ryerson University with a B.A. in media production. In his talk, Patterson stressed about hard work and the impact it has on creating a successful career. He does not believe in relying on talent alone, saying “I just think there’s work. I think that you can be stronger at something than someone… [but] If you want to get better at anything, you work at it till you’re good at it.”
Screenwriter Courtney McCallister is a producer and writer who has worked on the TV series Night Owl and Street Spirits. As she works primarily in entertainment media, she spoke about the importance of language and word choice informing film. She said, “[w]ords definitely matter in every media. Typically depending on the drama, it should reflect that within the reading itself.” McCallister works for a production company but also always tries to get her own shows produced. She believes there’s no one way to write a screenplay. “If I’m reading a comedy, it’s great that I’m laughing at the little things in between, but if I’m reading a drama, maybe not so much of that…Show don’t tell.”
UTM’s assistant professor Geoff Bouvier graduated with an M.F.A. from Bard College’s Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts and a Ph.D. in Poetry at Florida State University. His poetry has appeared in the Denver Quarterly and American Poetry Review. However, even for Bouvier, an established and well-decorated career doesn’t bar him from the experience of rejections. When asked about submitting work to poetry magazines and dealing with rejections, his message was to “[g]et ready to be rejected. Till this day I think I’m about 20 to 1.” He mentioned that he has gotten rejected multiple times for poems that went on to win prizes. Bouvier encourages aspiring writers to keep records of where you’ve sent inquiry letters and being persistent. “It’s not mathematics…it’s chemistry. You’ve got to hit the right spot at the right moment.”
As a technical writer, Amir Ahmed’s job is to decode often dense material between two or more parties. The society for technical communication says that technical writing is “sometimes defined as simplifying the complex.” An ever-changing field, Ahmed says his job is “looking at technical documentation,” to “translate that technical documentation into something [easier] that a user can then read.” Ahmed graduated from the University of Toronto with a Master of Education.
Adrian Ma is a journalist, assistant professor at Ryerson University, multimedia producer, and author who has written for CBC News and the Toronto Star among others. Ma acknowledges the different experience he has over some of the other writers on the panel because his work is “a very formulaic and process-driven product because you have to write 6, 7, 8 different pieces a day.” He outlined the fluidity of news cycles and how important stories are shared “tens of thousands of times,” only to be buried the next day. “You start all over again,” Ma quipped. However, Ma also appreciates the fulfilment his work brings, noting that “you feel absolutely connected to your community and the wider world itself. The actual world is so full of drama and so full of artistic moments that you can’t believe are real.”
Overall, it was a great evening for students in attendance who wanted to learn more about how the writing industry works. The writers were insightful in recounting their successes and failures while offering differing perspectives about their careers. UTM Scribes did a successful job moderating the panel and organizing the event.