The Path to Becoming a Writer is Never Straight

Friday, December 16, 2016

Kevin MillerWritten by Kevin Miller (BA '97)

If you had tried to guess the career for which I was preparing myself while studying at the University of Waterloo, you would have been hard pressed to come up with an answer. My transcripts included courses in philosophy, psychology, sociology, history, social work, and political science. You would have been even more confused if you had looked at my transcripts prior to UWaterloo, which included classes in theology, biblical studies, and youth ministry. On not one of those transcripts would you have found a course that was aimed ostensibly at preparing me for the profession at which I have spent most of my adult life: writing.

Despite my mongrel approach to education, ever since I was a kid, I knew I wanted to be a writer. The problem was, I was raised on a farm in rural Saskatchewan, and in such an environment, when you announce that you want to write comic books, movies, and sci-fi novels for a living, people don’t exactly break out the champagne.

Feeling pressured to prepare myself for a career that was a bit more financially secure, I set out initially to become a youth pastor. Realizing quickly that I wasn’t cut out for the cloth, I shifted to political science. But following a stern lecture from my mother about how many political science majors comprise the ranks of the unemployed, I switched to Social Development Studies at Renison College. The program was a godsend in that it allowed me to indulge my disparate interests while also preparing me for a respectable, if not high-paying, vocation as a social worker.

I began my career in social work while still attending university, working at several youth custody facilities. I enjoyed the work, but the writer in me refused to be ignored. So, I moved back out west, where I stumbled into a job as a newspaper reporter—my sole qualification being the paper was owned by my former grade nine French teacher. That job was crucial for two reasons:

1) It got my parents off my back. Once they realized I could make a living as a writer, they became my biggest fans.

2) It gave me credits and experience, which I parlayed into a successful career in book publishing and filmmaking.

Up the CreekAs I look back on my time at the University of Waterloo, I realize that, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t have chosen a better educational path for becoming a writer, because it allowed me to study every aspect of human behaviour, which is the purview of writing. I call on the insights I gained at UWaterloo every day, including while writing my latest book, Up the Creek!, an adventure novel about four boys in small town Saskatchewan who decide to canoe the creek that runs through town during spring runoff season and get in way over their heads.   

“Up the creek” and “over my head” are two apt descriptions of how I felt so often while trying to find my way through life. I’m just glad I finally had the courage to follow my instincts rather than listen to all the voices that said it couldn’t be done.

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