Writing Like a Champion

Student Vincent Chu discusses how an Extension course inspired him

More than five years ago, Vincent Chu took an important step toward officially becoming a writer: enrolling in The Craft of Writing, a required course in the Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program in Writing. Although he didn’t study creative writing in college (Vincent has a B.A. in sociology and public policy from UCLA), he had been drawn to writing from a young age.

“I’ve always written as a hobby, and I knew that I liked writing,” Vincent says. “In college I started as a business major, but discovered it was the general education courses that required papers like sociology and public policy that interested me and were a natural fit.” It was only a matter of time before creative writing would move to the fore.

“I already knew I wanted to pursue writing, but in The Craft of Writing I was encouraged and inspired to pursue it more seriously,” says Vincent. “Instructor Lindsey Crittenden was fantastic. She was incredibly knowledgeable and encouraging, and she made the space very comfortable, which I think is especially important for beginning writers. She understood the different goals of each student and tried to help each of us get what we wanted most from the course. Plus, every class was engaging, unique and fun.”

photo of Vincent Chu's short story collection against a tree

Crittenden’s initial encouragement has been key to Vincent’s success. “The short story I wrote in that course became the first story I ever published in a magazine and a version of it is actually included in my upcoming collection, Like a Champion,” says Vincent. “That first story—which I wrote, edited, workshopped and read in the course—really opened the floodgates and motivated me to continue writing and submitting more stories.”

For five years after the course, Vincent lived and worked in Germany, all the while expanding on what he learned in class and writing what would become Like a Champion. “I made it a goal early on to write things I like to read,” says Vincent. “And since my tastes are naturally not incredibly broad, it helped keep the stories fairly focused in terms of style and themes. After I had about five or six published stories, I started to think that a collection was maybe possible. I then tightened up the remaining stories to round out the collection and hit all the points I thought would make the collection feel complete.”

It was also Vincent’s balance between having a clear concept in mind and letting the writing go where it wants that helped make his collection “funny and big-hearted, imbued with a generosity and warmth that reminds us that moments of glory can happen when we least expect it,” according to his website. “In 18 stories that shine a light on people far from champions, Like a Champion is an ode to underdogs and long shots, disappointed worker bees and hopeful lovers, sad office parties and one-sided basketball games.”

So now that Vincent has his first short story collection under his belt, what will be his next writing project? “I love short stories and will probably continue to always write them,” he answers, “but I would definitely like to write a novel. I’m in the early stages of that. I’d like to maintain the style and approach I’ve taken to my short stories and apply it to the novel format, so it feels like a natural transition. A lot of the groundwork I learned in The Craft of Writing is still very much applicable for this next project.”

When asked about the further honing his writing skills by taking additional courses with us, Vincent replies, “Certainly. There are so many elements of writing—and all the things that happen around writing—that it’s impossible not to continue learning and developing your craft across the board. I feel pretty lucky to live in a city with options like UC Berkeley Extension, where writers of all levels can continue to work on getting better in very specific areas. Writing is such a solitary endeavor; it helps to be able to share and collaborate and challenge yourself among other writers and experienced instructors.”


Missed Vincent Chu's launch event at The Bindery? His debut story collection, Like a Champion, is now available for sale at local booksellers and online.