By Tia Trinh - December 17, 2023

I didn’t know what a literary magazine was until after I got accepted into UC Santa Barbara (UCSB). As a Writing & Literature (W&L) major, it feels shameful to admit. To get into the program, I had to demonstrate a high level of interest and passion for the subject and yet I wasn’t even familiar with literary magazines. The extent of my publishing knowledge was limited to books and stories I could access through my high school’s The New Yorker subscription, among other well known publications. 

I came from a high school that focused on STEM programs and activities, where students were encouraged to take part in the International Baccalaureate program with the promise of immediate success. I attended classes with Speech and Debate National Champions with inflatable egos and Science Olympiad champions who asked after every test, “So what score did you get?” Being a part of a literary magazine was never part of my career plan. 

In fact, I stumbled across the W&L major by accident. While my friends expressed interest in chemical biology, engineering, and pre-medical programs, I admitted that I was looking into English and communications. In the midst of a pandemic, I felt even more lost. When choosing what to apply for at UCSB, I came across “Writing & Literature” and found myself learning about the College of Creative Studies (CCS) and the unique opportunities presented by the program and major. 

Thus began my journey as a CCS W&L student. As a wide-eyed first year, I grappled with the concept of being in college whilst navigating the requirements of my major. I couldn’t quite take upper division classes just yet, so my knowledge of the literary world was still rather surface level. My first year felt like I only scratched the surface of what it meant to be a writer. But I was content. If I couldn’t fit in with my STEM oriented peers, then surely I could find a place with other writers.

The word “imposter syndrome” was a familiar term. I had felt it before countless times, but for the first time I felt wildly anxious in an environment that I was supposed to be an expert in. I say expert in its loosest terms. Perhaps the label, “Writing & Literature Major” was getting to me. To many of my non-CCS friends, the assumption became that because I had gotten accepted into CCS, then surely I knew what I was doing because not just anyone gets into CCS.

I received praise over being a writer and old friends from home joked that I was so bold to pursue this as a major. Whenever I mention that I’m a W&L major to others, I’m hit with the classic, “Oh my god, I hate writing. I could never do that.” Sure, I say the same thing about STEM but I began to wonder if I was really cut out for the program. I couldn’t help but compare myself to others and began to doubt my own skills as a writer. I feared that the pieces I produced lacked a substantial plot or developed characters. I was afraid that my works didn’t have any themes that stood out to the reader or my message became lost under heaps of unnecessary details. By the end of my first year, I was burnt out from anxiety that I wasn’t doing enough. 

When I finally started the Spectrum series in the fall quarter of my second year, I had my first dive into literary publishing. 

But as 2023 slammed into me with each week bringing a new wave of bad news, I found myself looking forward to the Spectrum readings. The longer pieces allowed me to dive into new worlds and experiences, and I found myself becoming immersed in the process. It felt like I was being let in on a secret, having the chance to read such a wide selection of unpublished works that stirred all sorts of emotions like simple joy from nature poems or an exciting thrill from science fiction-esque short stories. 

I could discuss fiction and nonfiction pieces even if I stumbled over words and anxiously forgot what I was going to say mid-sentence. But with poetry, I felt lost. I was never very well versed in poetry, so what could I offer to the discussion table? I couldn’t help but feel that I was much less qualified than my peers, who seemingly were much more knowledgeable about literary publishing, and nearly everyone was already published already. In short, I didn’t think I was qualified to be in the room.

Being on the Spectrum team has taught me the importance of patience in the literary publishing world. Now having been an editor and a submitting writer, I have a much greater appreciation and understanding of the writing to publishing process. We receive works from writers who are just stepping into the writing world, and those that are already published and well-versed in the world of literary magazines and journals. 

Now as a second year, with a much more solid understanding of the program and my own goals as a student and writer, I have come to the realization how important it is to not think so much about how you might think you don’t belong. All of us are still learning from professors, from readings, and from each other. 

It sounds silly to see it written down, because it seems to be common sense. Still, Spectrum offered me a place that was both professional and academic. I was already immersing myself in the professional literary publishing world as a student who was still learning the ins and outs of her own writing. 

I still stress myself out on a daily basis, take on too many classes and responsibilities, then bemoan about it to my friends. But at the end of the day, I return to the old, yet charming building that is CCS and put myself back into an environment that truly makes me feel like I belong: a room with other writers.

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