Betsy Warland Interview, Part 2: Advice to Emerging Writers

In Part 1 of this interview, award-winning author and Vancouver Manuscript Intensive director Betsy Warland described the vision behind the unique mentorship program she has created for emerging writers.

In this second and final installment, she talks about opening VMI to international applicants. She also recalls what it felt like to finish her first manuscript, and gives herself some retrospective advice. Read on, and if you’re as impressed as I am by her words of wisdom, apply for the next session of the Vancouver Manuscript Intensive program. It starts in January 2017, and the deadline is November 21, 2016.

Betsy Warland
Betsy Warland

You’ve opened the program to international applicants. How will that work, logistically?

Last year, we had a writer from the Netherlands. That was done all through Skype. And we have a few students from Alberta. They usually come in for the consults and for the final reading, which is always really exciting. We’ve opened it to writers from all across the country and beyond. So far, it’s been through Skype, but it could be other forms, like FaceTime. It’s really up to the mentor and the writer.

You’ve published twelve books, and you’ve been a mentor and writer now for more than thirty years. When you completed your first manuscript, how did it feel?

It was a poetry manuscript that I had been writing for years. It was a typical first manuscript: I had way too much and had to figure out what it was about—what went in and what didn’t. So I started an organization called Women’s Writing Collective in Toronto. We did workshops and conferences. We published an anthology. We really helped each other a lot. That was very important to have.

Finishing a manuscript is a lot of work. That’s all I have to say. It’s a lot of work. But the first book—there’s nothing quite like it. It’s amazing. It’s a miracle. Because you’ve been working on eight-and-a-half-by-eleven, and even the form changes dramatically, even how you hold it changes dramatically. It’s really worth pursuing.

Looking back, what advice would you give to yourself—the writer who completed that first manuscript?

Even writers who have published many books have to get input from other skilled writers, editors, instructors, or agents. So it’s hardly ever that you write the manuscript, you finish it, and it gets picked up by a publisher. That hardly ever happens. But if people you trust are saying that something isn’t working, that it’s sagging here—that’s invaluable advice.  Or if they’re saying you’re losing momentum—if they’re saying there was a vibrancy that isn’t here in the end—that’s always the case, not knowing how to end it. It doesn’t matter the genre or how many books you’ve published. You don’t want it to be fizzling out and fraying at the end. So yeah. Listen to advice, and then experiment. Try to find out what really has to be there. Be open. But seek out the help you trust.

Apply for the next session of Vancouver Manuscript Intensive

Deadline: November 21, 2016