Rachel Wong is a writer, communicator, food aficionado and piano player. Living in Surrey, BC with her family, Rachel is also studying at Simon Fraser University (SFU) in that province. Despite being faced with encouragement to explore a traditionally stable career path, Rachel has followed her heart. Since early elementary school, Rachel has been writing. For the last three years, she’s been practicing the craft – and getting paid for it.
We connected with Rachel to learn more about her story and aspirations. Read more below:
- You have always loved writing. I remember the very first time my brain said, “a-ha!,” after I had written something and shared it with an audience (my Grade Eight classroom). I realized that, hey, this is something I could do forever… What was your moment like?
The first moment that I fell in love with writing and sharing stories was in Grade Four. We were doing a short story unit in Language Arts and I had struggled to come up with a premise for my story. I remembered at the time that my mom was lamenting about the fact that socks would go missing after doing a cycle of laundry. So I wrote a short story called “Where Did the Socks Go?” about a monster eating up our socks. My teacher submitted all of our stories to this Canada-wide writing contest for youth, and my story was published in an anthology. Seeing my name in print was that light bulb going off in my head.
- Right now, you’re studying Communication at SFU, but this isn’t the first program you’ve entered. What has your academic journey been like?
Coming out of high school, I wanted to do Communication at SFU. But it was pure miscommunication that I didn’t pursue it right away. The irony of it all, right? So instead I had started in a first-year general arts program that had allowed me to get a taste of different things, namely World Literature, International Studies and History. While I loved those things, I couldn’t see myself as a diplomat, a government worker or a historian. Having closed all my doors to science and math, I decided to transfer into Communication. There was a lot of fear and self-doubt, because I knew that if it turned out that Communication was the most boring thing in the world, I would have no prospects left. Parallel to this, I was going through a particularly dark period in my life and the anxiety was not good for me. Thankfully the Communication program at SFU is amazing and I stuck with it ever since. So in a few words, the journey has been tumultuous. But I would also add that it has been rewarding.
- There is so much pressure after high school to select the best program. Whenever we feel like maybe we haven’t picked the right one, there are a lot of emotions we might experience. How did you feel when you felt unsure, pre-Communications degree selection?
I was scared! Admittedly I have terrible coping mechanisms – I was constantly stressed out, my anxiety went through the roof, and I would go back and forth between being stuck on the problems in front of me and what I felt was my inevitable downfall in the future. The last thing I wanted was to let down my family, and that period of time was like looking through thick fog. I had no idea what to expect or what to do.
- Who has been your biggest support in your academic journey, so far?
My parents have always been my biggest supporters, whether it be in my academic journey or just my life in general! I think if my parents had their way, they would have liked to see me pursue something that is a little more “stable,” like medicine or engineering or law. The very first time I parted ways from this was in Grade 11, stressing out about Grade 12 course selection. These classes would determine what you could and could not take right in first year university, so I had to be strategic. I decided to stop taking Math all together once I finished Grade 11 because I thought that I wasn’t going to go into the sciences or business. My parents might not have been entirely thrilled with the fact that I closed a bunch of doors, but through it all they have shown nothing but support and love for me and what I have been doing. They let me try things out for myself, and for that I’m so grateful.
- When you started writing professionally, you submitted a piece to Student Life Network. It’s called, “Why Failure Is Necessary.” Why did this topic resonate with you?
The short answer is that I have an obsession with the word, all that it entails and our societal perception of it. Ironically, I wrote that piece in 2014, before I started at SFU and before this concept really tested my limits. In the little wisdom that I have gained throughout my time in university, I began to see failure as a normal part of life, without the negative connotation that I believe we as a society have imposed on it. There is no success without failure. It’s not to say that we should constantly strive to do things poorly, but instead we strive to do our best. And sometimes our best is all that we can offer, as long as we can look at ourselves at the end of the day and know that we did put in our 110 per cent. I thank my mom for that clarity.
- Submitting any piece of writing and waiting for feedback (which may include acceptance, but also rejection) can be stressful! What do you do to manage any worries while waiting to hear back from an outlet or platform?
I do one of two things: I either busy myself with other writing projects, or I just step away from writing completely and do something else. I also remind myself that each opportunity to share my writing is a blessing and a learning experience, that all critique is a way for me to grow in my craft and that it’s good to have other eyes read your work to help with clarity and editing. Rejection is of course difficult to swallow sometimes, but I believe that where one door closes, another one opens. I can attest to this over the course of trying to make my way as a writer!
- Today, you’re a contributor to Curiocity Vancouver, a Radio Host and Producer with Y57 Media and you have an Instagram account dedicated to food called @delicious.destinations. How do you manage your time as a writer, host and producer and content creator?
Very carefully! I’m obsessed with planning, so I use my planner to plan out ideas and timelines, and tackle things one item at a time, one day at a time, according to their deadline. It’s also nice to have so many rotating projects on the go, so that I am able to change it up and be exposed to different things.
- What is the best part about having the chance to write, produce and create your own content through the outlets mentioned above?
Each opportunity to me is a blessing! Whether it’s one reader or 100 readers, I’m thankful for every opportunity that I get to share my writing and share my stories or the stories of those that have so kindly share with me. Each outlet has its unique mandate and purpose, and it always provides a challenge for me to expand my writing and tell new stories, which for me is the best part!
- What have you learned through writing, radio production and Instagram content that you think you’ll be using in your communications career for years to come?
Beyond the physical and technical skills, I will definitely take with me the idea of rolling with things and be flexible. Remember how I said that I love to plan? When it comes to these creative industries, things can change in the blink of an eye. I could be working on a project with my heart and soul for someone only to have it scrapped in an instant because the direction and focus has changed. Deadlines get moved up or people withdraw their interest. It happens in communications careers, and it definitely happens in life.
- What is the toughest part about working in a creative industry?
Lack of consistent work and income. It’s a paradox that I grapple with constantly: technically, you shouldn’t be putting out work for other people for free. You should be compensated fairly. But in the creative industries, it’s sometimes all about “putting in your due diligence” or “gaining exposure,” sometimes at the expense of yourself. We’re always looking for that “big break” – I had been looking for it and contributing to publications for three years before getting some kind of break and writing for compensation. Of course, I don’t just write for the money – I write because I love to do it. But writing for free doesn’t work really well when you have rent to pay or a family to raise, especially in Vancouver!
- How do you ensure your brands and your content stands out in a world where brands and content are always accessible to all audiences?
Truthfully, this is something that I need to work harder at, so thank you for the reminder! I think posting consistently and just being open with my audience and authentic is a good start.
- With a few more years left at SFU, where do you see yourself post-graduation?
It’s strange to say out loud that I have just over a year left at SFU! I would love to still be living in Vancouver because I love this city a lot. I’d still be writing, a published author and hopefully reading news to you one day behind a news desk!
- What advice would you share with other students and up and coming writers/creators?
I would encourage them to pursue their dreams and passions, whether it be writing, music, acting, or anything else creative! We have these talents to share with the world, and the world needs to see it in action! I would also encourage them to have confidence and chase after opportunities as they arise. The worst they can say is no, but you’ll never hear a yes if you don’t try!
- Do you have anything else to add?
I think I would stress that your passions are not things to be ignored! If you get excited about something, whether it be cooking, sports, writing, or volunteering, you should go out and pursue it to some capacity! Life goes by quickly, and it’s too short to not chase after your dreams!
If you live in Vancouver, tune into Y57 Media every Tuesday at 7pm on CFRO 100.5 FM, or stream live at http://coopradio.org.