Betsy Warland Interview, Part 1: A Unique Writing Program

Betsy Warland, VMI founder

When Vancouver Manuscript Intensive founder and director Betsy Warland won the Mayor’s Arts Award for Literature last month, MC Bill Richardson said that “literary Vancouver would not be the same without her.”

The VMI team–eight mentors and many alumni–agree. In addition to writing twelve critically acclaimed books, Betsy’s unique vision as and editor and mentor led her to design and create a program that offers support to a community of writers working in poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, and mixed-genres.

In Vancouver Manuscript Intensive’s six month program, writers work one-on-one with a mentor. They also meet in small groups to learn about the craft. The next session of VMI begins in January 2017, and the deadline for applications is coming up soon–November 21!

In Part One of this interview, Betsy divulges behind-the-scenes information about how she selects applicants and mentors, and bout how the “matchmaking” process works.

What inspired you to create Vancouver Manuscript Intensive?

About a decade ago, I found myself doing more and more manuscript consults, and I needed to be able to make some referrals to other authors. All the programs that existed around manuscript development were distance, so originally I wanted something that was face-to-face. Now I’ve been doing it for 10 years so I’ve opened it up to distance. Still, the majority are face-to-face, and they’re from the North of BC, Vancouver Island, and Alberta. That’s the base. Those writers come in for at least two consults.

Vancouver Manuscript Intensive pairs prospective students with mentors working in the same genre. How do you pick the mentors?

It’s a little bit like matchmaking. I look for experience. Also, a variety of authors, and authors who are interested in supporting emerging writers, who find it important to give back to the community. They have to really enjoy that process. And be reliable, because it’s a big commitment for writers who invest financially, and who invest their time into the program.

Evelyn Lau
Evelyn Lau
Claudia Casper
Claudia Casper
Karen Tulchinsky
Karen Tulchinsky

What’s unique about Vancouver Manuscript Intensive?

We look at the whole body of work, at the whole manuscript from the beginning. That is really rare. Almost every other program looks at it in bits. It’s not unusual for writers to be in a program, and the whole manuscript in its entirety is never looked at. I feel that it’s really crucial to look at the whole manuscript. Or if they don’t have a manuscript, if they have a bunch of poems, to look at the whole body of work, and then build your planning with a manuscript in mind.

What’s the advantage of looking at the manuscript as a whole, rather than in bits?

The writer who’s the student knows what’s in that whole body of work, but you [the mentor] don’t, so you can spend quite a bit of time on the writing that isn’t actually what the manuscript is about. You can get off track. At VMI, the writer and the mentor both come to the table with the same deck of cards. You can see things that happen in the middle or at the end that help you understand what has to happen differently at the beginning. You can determine what the manuscript is about.

Stay tuned. In Part Two of this interview, Betsy talks about opening the program up to distance learning, and shares memories of writing her own first manuscript.

To apply for the program, fill out the form at this link and attach a sample of your writing by November 21, 2016.

Cathleen With
Cathleen With
Jane Silcott
Jane Silcott
Shaena Lambert
Shaena Lambert
Rachel Rose
Rachel Rose