Practical Learning: Hands-on Preparation for Careers in Writing

“In my teaching, practical learning is less discussion around abstract theory, and engaged with more concrete elements. We discuss hypothetical, professional opportunities and prepare the tools necessary for emerging writers to feel emboldened and confident to go out and sustain themselves and succeed in however they want to forge their writing career.”

–Mallory Tater, Lecturer (CRWR)


This course allows both BFA and MFA students to develop the necessary communication and reflection skills for success in the creative writing field.

As graduates may engage with the multiple avenues available to them, students are provided various practical and participatory learning opportunities, such as creating materials collaboratively in class and engaging with promotional and marketing sources.

We look at how students might design their own website, send their work out for publication and practice the applied aspect of public speaking, participating in a mock writers festival, and interacting with members of the industry through our term guest speakers.


This course and its assignments engage writers as they explore different avenues and tools, and eventually develop the necessary skills for sustaining and succeeding in their writing careers.


  • Develop students’ abilities to tailor their professional writings to the needs of a real-world context and audience
  • Provide opportunities for students to engage with professionals in the field of writing and publishing so that they can become familiar with the skills, knowledge and attributes needed to succeed
  • Encourage students to advocate for themselves by developing their written, spoken, online and other materials accordingly, and to promote self by participating in activities such as submitting pieces for publishing and public speaking
  • Guide preparation of students’ self-marketing documents such as author biographies, CV and cover letters
  • Support students’ emotional wellbeing by providing strategies to overcome stress and anxiety-related barriers


  • Course: CRWR 430/530 (“Preparation for a Career in Writing”)
  • Level of Difficulty: Medium
  • Number of Students: Small lectures
  • Expected Prep Work: Minimal
  • Delivery: Lecture (hybrid or online)
  • Time: 1 full course length
  • Keywords: creative writing, self-advocacy, mental health

Learning Activities

Multiple Assignments




Students are provided with the following assignments in which they experience the practical aspects of industry and/or the professional world:

  1. Guest speakers such as published authors literary agents are invited for students to reflect on what that kind of relationship could look like for them.
  2. Students draft their author biographies early in the course so that they can start thinking of themselves as writers, and not just students studying writing. The task of writing author biographies, which are succinct documents outlining a writer’s style, allows students to overcome anxieties and learn how to promote themselves and their writing, and connect with members of the community and other industry professionals.
  3. Students partake in a mock writers festival, involving several topics and panels for which students sign up and practically speak and advocate for their creative work. The topics range from creating compelling characters, to which genres they like to work in, to how they might engage with activism in their work.
  4. Students tailor their curriculum vitae (CV), cover letters, and websites according to their needs and their sense of self while considering the ways in which they might want to network or communicate one another and industry folks. There is no one size fits all and we really tackle that in the classroom with our discussions.
  5. Students read, research and talk about publishing in journals and magazines as well as their manuscripts, so they are aware of the publishing and literary climate by the time they have completed the course. We look at literary agency representation and what literary contracts look like.


  • Assignments requiring written submissions of a technical nature, such as CVs and author biographies, are graded according to formatting, effort, language, word count, and so on (10% of overall grade).
  • Assignments such as preparing for, participating in and speaking at a (mock) writers festival are graded based on the students’ level of enthusiasm, engagement, and preparedness.
  • Overall grading includes marks for participation and collaboration.

Discussion & Reflection

Do you feel the students achieved the intended learning outcomes for the course?

Yes, I do, and by the end of the course they have concrete evidence to show for it in their author bios, CVs, and cover letters, and it is always celebratory when the students send out their work and receive responses for it. I think the practical learning happening is resulting in an outcome that gets them more confident to leave school when they graduate.

What did the students share about their experience?

Many students register for the course not knowing very much about the industry and come with concerns around a variety of areas such as getting an agent to represent your work, succeeding as a writer, and getting grants and research streams in Canada. By the end of the term, I get a lot of feedback from the students that many of their questions have been answered and that they have the resources they can refer.

What are some changes or improvements which you wish to include in future?

I have been thinking about the different genres that there are in our discipline, and it is difficult to include some of those because the instructor does not have the background or is not in that field; for example, I do not write for stage. I am hoping to have some more inclusivity of guest speakers and variation over the course of time, so students working in different disciplines can see themselves represented through the different guests that we have. That is definitely a goal of mine to not just have more popular genres, such as fiction, represented with guest speakers.

Another assignment that I want to run in the future is attending a literary event together in Vancouver, which would be an observational look at what that could be like for the students. Watching how authors conduct themselves, taking observations of some of their marketing tools and techniques could be beneficial, in my opinion.

Do you have any suggestions for instructors considering Practical Learning for their course?

I think that one must think about their discipline and what it looks like on the ground, outside of the classroom, outside of the theory—what does it look like to prepare students for a professional and community environment, and how can the assignments be tailored to help them get their feet wet and learn about the work that they might experience outside of the classroom? Also, it enriches students’ learning when we bring professionals to them and help them spark dialogue with experts working in this creative field.

Do you wish to share anything further?

One other module that I think is really important and that more instructors across the board could be doing is considering students’ mental health. This module is centered around self-care and care for the students in their role as both a student and an artist. We talk about what it is like to navigate situations such as feeling stuck with an idea, their own mental health, work deadlines, and capitalism-driven fatigue.

The module explores how to push through any doubt and fear, to be open to when rest is needed and to begin tailoring ways that nurture each individual’s sense of mental health so that they can exhibit the best version of themselves in and out of the professional realm. I always schedule this module around the time in the term when the burnout is high, and we simply talk about ways of letting the creative brain rest and accepting that it is not always going to be generative.

We look at essays about self-care such as On Burn-out by Alicia Elliott and Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Date.