Publishing a book, for some, is a writer’s career-defining moment. For Kirsten Armstrong, it’s only the beginning. Currently, a fourth-year philosophy and professional writing and communication (PWC) student, Armstrong is enrolled in a course called “Making A Book,” for which she wrote, edited, typesetted, and eventually published a collection of creative non-fiction prose.
In terms of what the PWC program is accomplishing with student book publications, Armstrong believes that it offers practical experience in the publishing industry.
She explains, “There are many job opportunities that take place in this industry, including editing and typesetting. We’re learning how to properly edit, as this course gives us an opportunity to copy edit each others’ stories as opposed to just content editing our own.”
In addition, Armstrong says that professor Guy Allen has provided mentorship and guidance through the publishing process. While the course is not like a usual class wherein the professor teaches you step-by-step, Armstrong explains that if “you put in the initial effort, he’ll guide and help you find your way. You have to be accepted into the course after meeting with Guy Allen, so he’ll already have an idea of the students who will put in the effort to accomplish publication because it’s not an easy task. It’s definitely a give-and-take.”
Regarding editing with the professor, she says that most of the editing is done peer-to-peer. Because the pieces should have been written from previous courses where other professors have already edited them, assembling the final collection and providing guidance in design and publication is where professor Allen comes in.
Armstrong’s book is titled Contingent Colours. In terms of what the title means, she explains, “As a philosophy student, ‘contingent’ has its own meaning to me. I titled it as a play on words for myself, and it has a double-entendre for everyone else who don’t necessarily know what contingent means philosophically. Essentially, contingent means in some possible world, so the idea of contingent colour means that in this possible world, I’ve experienced these colours. I’ve divided my book into four chapters and each chapter is a colour containing different stories that represent the colour to me. For example, I have a chapter named blue. I have a page where I describe what blue means to me and then four stories that represent it. Then I go onto another chapter and another colour.”
She continued, “All the stories are creative nonfiction, so they’re all based on my life. I would say the overall theme of the stories is dark. It’s mostly about personal challenges and how to overcome them, and keeping in mind that no matter how crappy days will get, you’ll always have those personal relationships that help you get through them. The focus of my book would be personal struggles and how I’ve dealt with them.”
When asked what has inspired her to write about these personal and intimate topics specifically, she replied, “Growing up in high school, it’s kind of shunned to talk about mental illness or these terrible personal experiences. I wanted to write a book that someone could read and think ‘I can talk about this’ and ‘It’s okay that I wasn’t okay.’ As hard as it was to write the book, I’m really hoping it will affect people in a positive light and allow them to talk and open up about all these experiences they’ve been hiding from people.”
She adds that what makes her book unique is the way in which she views and writes about her life experiences. She explains, “I think I see the world a little bit differently than others. It gives me a strength in my writing because I find I write more artistically in the way I try to describe things.”
A consequential challenge for Armstrong while writing this book has been deciding whether or not to publish something so personal to her family members. “It’s my choice to publish something about myself, but I’m kind of choosing for my family to reveal these things. It’s about finding boundaries. When something is about to be published, you have to go over it and make sure the tiniest things like the verbs you use are appropriate because you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but you also want to represent as accurately as you can what happened. That’s the whole point of creative nonfiction.”
As for the future, Armstrong is “going to take a practical route, probably in public relations,” for when she graduates. However, her end goal is to become a novelist.
In terms of advice for aspiring student writers, Armstrong encourages to stick to your own personal voice—it’s what has made her most passionate about writing.
“I’ve had a lot of feedback from some professors suggesting that I change or make stylistic variances in my writing. There were times when I understood where they were coming from, but sometimes you have to prioritize your voice over how other people interpret it.” She emphasizes, “Just knowing who you are and knowing what kind of writing you do, and putting that ahead of other things.”
Armstrong’s book, Contingent Colours, will be published in May.