To Be or Not To Be an English Major
I don’t know if this has been asked previously and if so, I am sorry! I am in my second year of college and stumped on what to do major/career wise. No one supports me in just going for English but writing is where I feel home. It’s what I do. I’m not decent at anything else. I’m so confused on how to go about my college life. One of my teachers who is also helping me with my schedule basically told me that writing is a waste of time and that I should go for something “real”.
Ahhhh, now this is a question I can answer (sort of). As someone who graduated with an English degree this last May I feel I have some insights to share! Observe above, my degree that just came in the mail!
First and foremost, I hate your teacher who said that writing is a “waste of time”. I cannot tell you how happy it’s made my employers that I know how to write, and what a rare commodity that is these days. That person is an idiot.
However, if your professor had said, “You need to have a backup plan because writing is very, very rarely a profession by which you can support yourself”, then I would have agreed with him/her.
The Creative Writing MFA Blog
People write in fairly often about studying creative writing in a higher education setting. Right now, I am decidedly anti-getting a creative writing MFA, but that’s just my opinion and what I think is right for my own life (and I LOOOOOVE school). But The Creative Writing MFA Blog has several contributors who are in grad school right now and they seem to be giving some great insights. So if you’ve been thinking about creative writing grad school, check it out!
Also here is an unrelated but reeeeally pretty of my alma mater :)
Undergraduate Publishing Programs: What’s the Advantage?
We’ve had some people writing in about publishing and education lately, and I think this article (written by an intern at the website I interned at last summer, Publishing Trendsetter) sums it up really, really well. Check it out!
Also funny that she’s the second intern at Trendsetter who started out in the Emerson Writing, Literature, and Publishing program and then left!
My professor who is the director of the mfa program at GMU told me that a MFA is good if you want to teach at a college level. Getting a MFA along with a published book (yeah or two) will get you into a tenure track professor gig while the MA in English won't get you that. He said basically you need a MFA or PhD to get a tenure track job. If that helps any.
It does. I, personally, feel that the only reason to get your MFA is if you want to eventually be a professor.
On grad school. A lot of top writing programs do waive tuition and stipend fairly generously, so you don't necessarily have to take on debt to get an MFA. These programs are usually pretty selective too, but it's worth mentioning. And yeah, getting a professorship without an MFA (or some impressive publication history) is not really viable anymore. Some places will probably even want a Doctorate in writing (not a lot of those, but more than there used to be). Just some food for thought.
I'm a biology major and I'm going to graduate in less than a year or so. I want to study creative writing and/or literature for my Master's Degree. What do I need to do to achieve that? I'm sorry I'm bothering you with this question, but you have a lot of experience and I really admire what you do with your Tumblr page. Oh. Did I forget to mention that I live in Puerto Rico?
Well first of all, if I was you I’d make sure I really wanted to get my Masters in either of those subjects. Ask yourself: Do I have a bucket of money I want to put into this? Does it not matter to me if I delay starting my career by 3 years? Do I understand that my chances of employment/publication will not be greatly improved once I get my Masters? If the answer is yes, then I would still consider it. I once asked my writing professor Randall Kenan what he thought about grad school for creative writing and he said, “Don’t go. In my opinion, grad school is for people who can’t motivate themselves to write on their own. Go start living life, have experiences, be poor. That will give you way much more to write about.” He didn’t get his Master’s and became a professor in a time before that was important, though, so take that with a grain of salt.
I don’t know if applying for graduate programs is the same in Puerto Rico as in the States, but I’m sure the process is the same—research schools with programs that seem to suit you, apply. I doubt your biology background will matter, versus having an English/creative writing background, except that a big part of your application will almost undoubtedly be comprised of writing samples. But that’s about as much advice as I can give, since I’ve never applied to graduate school and I don’t live in Puerto Rico!
Do you have any advice on getting over shyness about sharing your writing? I love to write...but the thought of sharing it with people stresses me out. And since I'm in a class that requires me to share it with all 20 of my classmates...well...I'M SUPER STRESSED. Help?
First and foremost, it’s great that you’re in a class, because of course it’ll force you to share your work and you’ll get used to doing it pretty quickly. So even if you do nothing but participate in your class, you’ll probably be fine!
I was often nervous going into new writing classes. I did intro fiction at my original college, so when I took intermediate after transferring to UNC, I was afraid that I would be inferior to the other writers because UNC was a better school with a more respected creative writing program. When I took a memoir class (because I didn’t get into advanced fiction, twice!) I was nervous because my writing wasn’t fiction, it was about my personal life. When I got into honors fiction I was nervous because I’d been able to skip advanced fiction by taking advanced nonfiction (which, unlike advanced fiction, you didn’t have to place into). So basically I was always nervous! But never more than the first time I had to share a piece of writing with a new class. After the first time, it always got easier.
If you’re worried about the quality of your writing versus your classmates’, don’t be. Other young people aren’t taking these classes because they’re already great writers. And I was happily surprised over and over again to find that we were all way more on the same page in terms of skill level than I had expected. Don’t get me wrong—I had a lot of really great writers in all of my classes, and I was very proud to have every one of them as colleagues. But for the most part pretention went right out the window when we all realized that we were coming from the same place and wanted the same thing: to improve.
I’m sure, also, that you’ll have a good professor who will know how to make everyone feel comfortable. Alan Shapiro taught my memoir class and was one of my favorite professors of all time. Everyone started out writing about really trite stuff, but Alan made us all feel so comfortable with one another that halfway through the semester the floodgates opened and people were writing about being raped, having eating disorders, being beaten by family members, their parents dying, using drugs, you name it (it’s crazy how much of this crazy stuff happens to people you’re surrounded by every day!). But we addressed every single piece as just that—a piece of writing. Alan set that example in how we talked about each others’ work and we followed.
The hard thing for me about writing classes was the deadlines. I always hated when I felt like what I’d written was absolute shit but I had to turn it in and share it anyway. And it’s true, some of the stuff I handed in really was shit, haha. But those were always the most useful workshop discussions in class because I had outside minds helping me learn how to take something I hated and turn it into something I might like. As with every creative endeavor, some’s gonna be good, some’s gonna be bad. But I’d be willing to bet that your classmates will be understanding, because they’ll feel that way too.
If you’re absolutely filled with terror before you have to share your first piece, maybe try sending it to a trusted friend first, or even a parent—I always sent stuff to my grandmother because she’d always say something nice no matter what, and boost my confidence. That may sooth your nerves.
But seriously, don’t worry. I promise you’ll get more used to letting people read your writing, and you’ll start to appreciate having other eyes to help you while you develop. Taking writing classes in high school and college improved my writing tenfold. I bet after a few weeks you’ll feel a lot less shy, and really be loving your class!
I am currently in grade 12, trying to figure out what to do with my future. I would like to one day be a book or magazine editor, or work in publishing, editing, journalism, etc. i was wondering if you have any advice about what classes to take in university, and other additional steps to take to get me to my goal. :) Please and thank you, thanks for your time!
I just graduated in May, so this is a good time to ask me these types of questions! If there’s anything I learned in college, it’s that it’s not about the classes you take, but what you do with your extra time. Every person who’s interviewed me for an internship or job that I’ve eventually landed has focused not on what I studied (although I did study journalism and then switched to English), but what I did in my free time—layout design for a magazine, editing for a lit mag, running this blog, having good internships before—etc. The other thing about doing that type of stuff on your own is that it’ll tell you whether it’s what you really want to do, since your career goals are somewhat varied at this point, it seems (which is good! And really normal!).
As far as classes, just take what you love so that you get good grades! Studying English won’t get you any sort of leg up in the publishing world (actually, business or barketing would probably serve you better) ‘cept that it’ll make you a good writer, which is key in any profession you go into.
Hope that helps! Good luck in university! Ah… I wish I could start it all over again. Sigh.
English majors of America, let it be known:
That it is possible to graduate with an English degree, and two months later land the first job you interview for, which is technically in finance, in central New York City. In this economy.
All is not lost!!!!!!!
Prompt idea by M.:
Write about someone who wants to be at an Ivy League school but could only get into a community college.
I'm sorry if you've answered this already, but I'm going to be a sophomore in college. My plans had always been to major in something for publishing, and I was going to go to Emerson in Boston to do so. Now I'm just at a state school majoring in creative writing. I know that's my enough, so I was wondering if you had any advice on what to major in for publishing? Thanks!
WAHOO I went to Emerson and I
HATED IT just didn’t feel it was right for me, so I transferred to UNC-Chapel Hill, which is also a state school. So rock on with your bad self, girl, you are on the right track in my humble opinion.
I majored in English which is the classic future-publishing-person major, but I’d also suggest looking into marketing, because a LOT of publishing is marketing and that’s something I wish I had more experience in.
But for publishing (and a lot of careers these days) it’s not really your major that counts, but your extracurriculars, internships, and general knowledge of what’s going on in the publishing world that will help you get a job. If there’s a book club or lit mag at your school, join it. Look into internships with your summers off. And I’d start subscribing to websites like Shelf Awareness and Publishing Trendsetter (I helped launch PT’er at my internship last summer, it is SO helpful and awesome).
Publishing has a lot of departments and pieces—editing, acquiring, design, marketing and publicity, printing, packaging, sales, shipping… the list goes on and on. I’d look into all of those departments, see which one interests you the most, and then start working towards learning as much about that aspect of publishing as you can.
Hope this helps!
For both of you offering advice to the freshman in college that asked about books: Thank you. Also, thanks to whoever asked! I've got a stack of at least 15 books that I stare at every day thinking "okay, now which one of you can I decide to remove today?". All I know for sure is that my Bukowski poetry and David Foster Wallace short stories won't leave my side.
Advice for the freshman who is selecting books, I tend to bring my trusted reference books with me. MLA style books and literary criticism references. They've been the most useful during college. But I'd also recommend bringing one of your most loved books (just one, not your whole collection :p) so that you have some of your favorite characters to turn to if you get lonely or bored. I'm certain your college has a library though so make use of that instead of cluttering your dorm. Good luck! <3
You mentioned a little while ago that you've been taking creative writing at a college level. I was wondering what kind of classes that includes or what kind of degree/certificate you could attain with that?
At UNC-CH the Creative Writing program is a minor so that they can keep the number of people in it low. To complete the minor you have to take 5 courses. You can either take a random assortment or do the fiction or poetry “tracks”. The track consists of Intro, Intermediate, Advanced, and a year long seniors Honors Thesis (and you have to apply into each successive class). You can also mix and match Intro Fiction and Intermediate Fiction with 3 non-track classes (say if you don’t get into Advanced), and those classes include things like Memoir, Children’s Lit, Young Adult Lit, Food Writing, Gram-O-Rama (a performance wordplay class), etc., it varies from semester to semester. I’m doing the senior Honors Thesis in fiction next year so even though it’s a minor I’m still going to graduate with Honors in Creative Fiction, which is cool.