Raelyn's picture
Raelyn from California is reading The Liars' Club October 7, 2011 - 7:41pm

The obvious one would be Creative Writing, but I wanted to hear some other ideas.  I'm a college student trying to decide on a major and could use some tips and such.  Gotta say I'm leaning towards a linguistics major.  Let's hear what was/is your major and how it affected your career as a writer.

Alex Kane's picture
Alex Kane from west-central Illinois is reading Dark Orbit October 7, 2011 - 8:18pm

I'm an English major. My college divides English into two "tracks": Writing and Literature. Thing is, the writing track has very little in the way of craft, creative writing, or publishing. To be honest, most of the great writers that have B.A. degrees majored in English, but I doubt that it matters much. The advantage to being an English major, though, is that you grow to understand literature from an academic standpoint and also catch a whiff of literary elitism, which is really the writer's bane. Literary snobbishness is such a buzzkill for me, but overall I've enjoyed my experience to the degree that I could ever enjoy institutionalized learning. Virtually everything I know about the craft, art, and business of writing comes from a) the internet, b) other writers, and c) the experience of actually writing.

lyndonriggall's picture
lyndonriggall from Tasmania is reading Going Bovine by Libba Bray October 7, 2011 - 8:56pm

Alex has got this basically spot on.  Only thing I will add is that my degree is split between English and Classical Literature (Ancient Greek and Roman stuff) and getting a perspective on the ancient world and how they are the first examples of many of the narrative structures we see today was really useful.

Mostly choose what inspires you though.  We don't want all writing to come out the same.

LG Haskett's picture
LG Haskett from Florida October 7, 2011 - 9:37pm

A good liberal arts education is probably the best foundation for good writing. Learn to understand the world, its people and their cultures and you have an endless supply of ideas and insight for your writing. Understanding how all of these people and things interact enables you to write in a way that will make a stronger connection with your target audience.

As far as a major goes.. follow what interests you. Just make sure you get a good spectrum of liberal arts in there behind your focus. And don't forget the science!  A lot of us liberal arts types prefer to avoid science. Our world is becoming so heavily technological that you need a reasonable understanding of science and technology just to understand much of what goes on. As far as writing goes, science is no longer relegated to the realm of science fiction. It's found in many mainstream novels, films, and TV shows.

Raelyn's picture
Raelyn from California is reading The Liars' Club October 8, 2011 - 12:01am

@Alex -  I've been contemplating the reason why people generally go for a full degree, and it seems to me that it's usually a superficial reason - "look at this piece of paper that says I've learned stuff!"  Based on your last sentence would you say getting a degree is overrated for a writing career?  The reason I ask this is because I'm not sure the years of paying off mountains of student loans is worth the shiny piece of paper.

Americantypo's picture
Americantypo from Philadelphia is reading The Bone Clocks October 8, 2011 - 8:36am

English. It's kind of a no-brainer really. If you want to write, read as much as you can and be in an environment where you're discussing literature and trying to better understand it. There is a snobbiness to it at times, but I think after all is said and done its better to understand all those "classics" than it is is be a writer with little to no knowledge of the work that came before you, work that was, for whatever reason, considered canonical. The canon may be a elite club of sorts, but there's a reason certain writers are considered worth studying.

If you're a fan of genre, this gets a little tricky. Genres aren't really respected much in literature, but that's changing all the time.

Alex is also right about the actualization of becoming a writer- read, write, and have a presence in places like this. That's the thing that'll really help as far as actually becoming a writer. You'll learn more about the business end of things through websites and workshops. Studying literature in college is more about having a clearer sense of your work through having analyzed what other people did. Also, if it helps make a decision, a great many writers have degrees in English. There are plenty that don't (I don't think Faulkner even finished high school), but most popular writers studied literature. Look at your heroes- did they follow the conventional route? Or did they do their own thing?

On the other hand- those student loans are a bitch.

Charles's picture
Charles from Portland is reading Lists of the Past October 8, 2011 - 8:41am

i have found my bachelors to be primarily bitch work and general ed. in fact, im not sure how i could teach, or write based only on that. im skating by right now on what i have learned because dennis thought the world needed a writing workshop. so, go dennis.

i am planning on staying in and getting a teaching certificate, and an MFA. i cant imagine having *both* could make me as unemployable as my bretheren with just an english degree.

Tristan Clausell's picture
Tristan Clausell from New Jersey is reading A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin October 8, 2011 - 9:09am

I agree with Alex early on. I'm currently majoring in Criminal Justice ( A field I quite enjoy and have security in) but my writing derives from the numerous books I read. English majors definitely have an advantage in writing with how their structure and formulas come to be, but I feel that creativity is grown rather than learned. 

So what I would say is major in anything you want, English or not, it won't really matter as a writer. It's definitely a great major if writing is all you want to do in life, then English definitely has its great benefits. But if you aren't too sure, or have another major in mind, it won't hurt to try those out too. As long as you work hard at writing through practice, read a lot of books, and keep utilizing fellow writers for criticism; you could become a writer with a degree in Engineering or Mechanics, etc. You get my point lol. Also, with the internet you could easily find information that explains literary works, or provide insight on valuable information.

 

Art is a way of life, not something you purchased.

 

Of course this is just my opinion lol.

- Tristan

Nick Wilczynski's picture
Nick Wilczynski from Greensboro, NC is reading A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin October 8, 2011 - 9:27am

*cough* *paynoheedtothemanbehindthecurtain* *cough*

Poli Sci. If I wanted to teach 7th grade english I would have been an English Major.

*cough* *cough* *nooffense*

Fylh's picture
Fylh from from from is reading is from is reading is reading is reading reading is reading October 8, 2011 - 10:16am

Here's my reactionary advice:

Do English Literature, and excel at it. Read all the secondary material you can. Pick essay assignments that challenge you. Read the classics. Read books from countries you've never visited. Take a class in something you don't think you're interested in. Make friends with as many professors as possible, without kissing ass. Enter essay-writing competitions.

Don't go out drinking all the time. Get a lover, then another, then stay single for just long enough that you start writing something new. Lose a lot of friends, make a lot of friends, and, most importantly, get your confidence at a slightly-higher-than-average level, so you don't feel vindictive when someone ends up beating you.

Get a college with a library that isn't noisy, too.

Alex Kane's picture
Alex Kane from west-central Illinois is reading Dark Orbit October 8, 2011 - 11:36am

Raelyn, you're right, a B.A. degree in English is often "superficial" in nature -- writers especially will admit this. But in today's world, if you want to have a job and stay afloat in order to support your writing habit, then you basically need to have some kind of college degree. There are a lot of exceptions, but in today's job market the B.A./B.S. has become more or less equivalent to a high school diploma five or ten years ago. I've also heard, on the other end of the argument, that a lot of employers tend to be biased against M.A., M.F.A., etc., because our society feels that there is such a thing as an "over-educated" individual, which is sad but true.

I went to community college for my gen. ed. stuff (Associate's degree), and so I'm hoping my time as a junior and senior will be significantly cheaper than if I'd gone to my current college the whole time.

An M.F.A. can definitely help someone develop good writing habits, but there is a strong collective opinion out there that it can stifle creativity and not really prove worth the tuition costs. If you get it paid, and get a job teaching younger students, well, that's probably not a bad gig.

Every writer I've seen that made it big has said the same thing: Don't quit your day job. Writing is a lot easier when your time is scarcer, and it's something you enjoy rather than how you have to earn your living.

Besides, you have to cultivate an insane level of productivity to make a living solely by writing fiction. Throw in nonfiction too, well, that's a possible avenue for a career -- but then you never know for certain when that next paycheck is going to come.

You might want to read Starve Better by Nick Mamatas to see if you'd enjoy a career solely in writing. Romantic it ain't. Big money it ain't.

.'s picture
. October 8, 2011 - 11:47am

I've been considering a journalism degree myself but I'm still pretty weary about it. It's a competitive field (always has been) but even if I could get a job doing professional blogging for a site like this while I wrote fiction, I would still be pretty smug.

Alex Kane's picture
Alex Kane from west-central Illinois is reading Dark Orbit October 8, 2011 - 11:56am

Fortunately, writing is still -- especially with the evolution of the internet, with blogging, e-books, etc. -- largely a merit-based profession. Good writers, who can produce consistently with a certain level of quality, will generally always be the ones who get the writing work. Regardless of age, degree, whatever; all that matters is what you've written recently, and maybe where you've published in the past. That cover letter helps, but the writing is key. It sells itself.

Achillez's picture
Achillez from Long Island, New York is reading The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway October 8, 2011 - 6:30pm

I was originally a journalism major but I changed my mind in junior year. Now I'm a sociology major and I love it. I felt like journalism was sucking the creativity out of me.

Aidan's picture
Aidan from Tucson, AZ is reading Lost in America October 8, 2011 - 8:14pm

Re: Journalism.  My experience comes from the undergraduate pursuit and credentialed news writing--still the purest form in my opinion.

It's the field that many of the great American authors began within.  Hemingway claimed writing news for the Kansas City Star ruined him, but his terse sentences, vivid descriptions and economy of space that came to define his writing are all hallmark in news writing.  Some of Palahniuk's best writing comes from his reportage, compiled in Stranger than Fiction.  Didion rose to fame writing for Vogue, eventually becoming a features editor and profiling some of the greatest personalities of her day.  And we could have an entire forum post on New Journalism and literary non-fiction.

You will read and write your ass off.You'll learn the English language. You'll come to know the Associated Press Style Guide like the back of your hand.  You'll learn to avoid cliche (shit!)  The mechanics of writng will become automatic and you'll have intense discussions on ensure vs. insure and Oxford commas. It's a good fit for the left-brain types always trying like hell to unlock their right brain. You'll force yourself to see things from the center. You'll embrace the credo: "It's your world, buddy.  I'm just living in it."

You'll have to do some low-paying internships and probably work at the student paper. You can take plenty of creative writing classes enroute. You'll come to understand that Wikipedia is good for at least a C in all you do and sometimes that's got to be good enough. Upon graduation you'll call yourself a Journalist, not a journalism major. And there's a number of specialties.  Stay away from broadcast (attention whores).

Adventure is part of the experience. You'll begin to see the shittiest of circumstances as part of a great story---your story. Waking up in strange places never felt so good. Reporting from the field is awesome. Even if the story is boring you can knock it out and raise hell after--and sometimes pitch that story like Thompson did.  It's a multifaceted discipline. You'll win at bar trivia every time. You'll wander suburban neighborhoods late at night searching for an unencrypted WiFi network to send your story to the copy desk so you can meet pals for beers instead of driving back downtown. You'll have a novel in progress (that will never see the light of day) and a paycheck every two weeks.

You can always go back and get your MFA in Creative Writing. Now, repeat after me: "What is your name and how do you spell it?"

.'s picture
. October 8, 2011 - 8:34pm

^ This was oddly inspiring. Though I doubt I'll get a job in journalism in this economy, I'll still give it a shot. Thanks for taking the time to write that out. I'll definitely think on that one. 

Aidan's picture
Aidan from Tucson, AZ is reading Lost in America October 8, 2011 - 8:49pm

Things are tough all over right now but college is probably the safest place to ride this out.  Follow your dreams for now, bud.  Challenge yourself. The job thing will take care of itself.

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words October 8, 2011 - 8:58pm

I have a BA in English Lit and a minor in biology - they're both the stuff of life is my argument.

The English degree really taught me how to read more than how to write (my essays weren't anything to brag about) but I was exposed to some really interesting works that got my imagination going.

It also gave me enough of a background in research to be able to pursue all kinds of other interest once I'd graduated which really helped to develop a perspective of peoples & their cultures (anthropology/sociology/psychology/philosophy could all benefit writing as well).

Calendar systems, Oswald Spengler's Civilization model & Canetti's Crowds and Power were all invaluable subjects of intense study outside of school which I wouldn't have been able to appreciate without the degree to begin with. They are key to my fictionalizing of cultures.

I also managed to read through the complete fiction of HP Lovecraft and without having studied 18th & 19th C. literature, I never would have been able to do (for good or ill. I'm still undecided).

 

HoboWriterDK's picture
HoboWriterDK from Upstate, New York is reading White Teeth, by Zadie Smith October 8, 2011 - 11:15pm

I started out studying journalism, decided it wasn't for me and switched to creative writing. It probably depends on the school (I've heard that great creative writing BA programs are somewhat rare) but I had a great experience. Online workshops like the one on this site are great but I don't think they can touch what you get in a classroom environment. Honestly, I've been missing that experience since I graduated.

I also had plenty of opportunity to study other things that interested me. Some of the other topics I studied really influence my writing now.

That said, if you're in a situation where you really need to find a job immediately after graduation, majoring in something else might be the smart choice. You can always take creative writing classes as electives.

fummeltunte's picture
fummeltunte from Seattle is reading The Left Hand of Darkness October 9, 2011 - 6:00am

Just as Aiden says, Journalism will have your writing your ass off, learn your AP, and learning to really CONSIDER your readers. I started in Journalism as well, but graduated with English in German. During a visit to our local paper hq, I found out only two of their employees had majored in Journalism. Most majored in what they were intersted in writing about-- tech guy did ICS, sports writer majored in Kinesiology, etc. So keep an open mind. If you wanna write on a particular topic, there's no harm in learning as much as possible about it. 

 

I wound up getting an English major instead, since our Journalism department eventually lost their senior faculty, then accredidation (WTF -it's also good to know when to bail out). Focused on Queer Studies and Rhetoric with the English dept, really enjoyed writing non-fiction essays. But writing and reading for the academic crowd starts feeling very isolated. Because it's so niche, it was hard for me to get my friends and family interested in what I was doing. Fiction seemed to be the most accessible format for telling things from the perspectives I wanted to hear.

 

Getting a Bachelors in general can be great if you're wanting to get a wide range of writing experience. I got to take playwriting, poetry, and short story workshops, along with doing the journalism and rhetoric for my main tracks. If you're looking to apply, definitely look at the faculty and the classes offered! 

missesdash's picture
missesdash from Paris is reading The Informers October 9, 2011 - 10:07am

“You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices.”
― Ray Bradbury

bryanhowie's picture
bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. October 9, 2011 - 11:04am

Take lots of classes in sociology (for understaning groups), psychology (for understanding people), anthropology (for understanding past cultures), art (for the ability to shape setting), journalism (to learn how to write a tight sentence), and criminal justice (for understanding crime).  

Then get a degree in something that actually makes money so you can have a job while you write (like business or something else equally boring).

Fylh's picture
Fylh from from from is reading is from is reading is reading is reading reading is reading October 10, 2011 - 12:36am

“You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices.”
― Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury was a master of saying really trite shit, though. And let's say you really can't learn to write in college — so what? Go to college and learn to read. It's an equally useful skill.

missesdash's picture
missesdash from Paris is reading The Informers October 9, 2011 - 12:05pm

And let's say you really can't learn to write in college — so what? Go to college and learn to read. It's an equally useful skill.

 

But is it worth 50k a year? And can you learn it anywhere else? This is obviously an american point of view, but given the current state of the economy, I don't think college is a worthwhile investment for people who aren't pursuing something math or science based.

Charles's picture
Charles from Portland is reading Lists of the Past October 9, 2011 - 12:20pm

as someone who knows how to write, i can tell you that bradbury was right on this one. college has done nothing but hurt me as a writer, do damage to my ego, and make me question what im doing there at all. my level of production and confidence is shit now, and i only have college to blame. all it does is teach you to write overly wordy technical papers which do two things:

-kill your voice

-feed the teacher's ego

hell, in the beginning of my college education the teachers were ridiculously supportive, but there are a few out there i've had which seemed threatened by talent and would rip people apart. i've seen it with my work and with others' and i really think those teachers have done irreperable damage to some really intense and talented young voices, and given some huge ego boosts to people who shouldnt be holding a pen.

.'s picture
. October 9, 2011 - 12:27pm

Hmmm that makes me not want to go to college. That and the money, thats pretty much a profit margin for them.

Liana's picture
Liana from Romania and Texas is reading Naked Lunch October 9, 2011 - 12:40pm

There's value to reading and analyzing what you've read in a somewhat guided environment, with people who love things similar to what you love. I wouldn't advocate being completely self-made because there is some value in exchanging ideas in a class, plus hearing what someone much more familiar with a book has to say about it (assuming the professor read it many times over, and that you bothered to pick a good professor). Now your degree? Literature would be an obvious one, but as someone else said, take other classes too - philosophy, psychology, though I found psychoanalysis more useful than psyhology because psychology loves to categorize people. But then again I personally prefer poststructuralist "nonsense" to structuralist certainty.

Someone in this thread (too lazy to look for who said it) suggested the only reason to be an English major would be to teach 7th grade English. Well go to grad school and beside reading much more, you'll get to teach at a higher level than that. Then again, teaching really swallows up your writing time, so right now I feel I should have become a librarian instead, so I wouldn't take my job home and I'd actually have time for writing. I don't regret any of my schooling, but teaching is too time and energy consuming, at least at a small college with huge work load. Now you heard me whine too.

I have mixed feelings about creative writing though. Any more thoughts on that?

Charles's picture
Charles from Portland is reading Lists of the Past October 9, 2011 - 12:47pm

i dont think creative writing can be taught. ive learned some cool shit about style and voice and story construction from the staff here, but they couldnt teach me to put those together and create breathing characters, or unique situations.

learning how to see symbolism within writing just confuses creatives and non-creatives (in my opinion) because it drops a bomb on the non-creative that they didnt think about before, and it gives the creative another thing to think about that they dont have to. at least not in early stages. but i think symbolism handles itself, like in a dream, and the author has less fingers in it than people involved in your education want you to think

Fylh's picture
Fylh from from from is reading is from is reading is reading is reading reading is reading October 9, 2011 - 12:55pm

as someone who knows how to write, i can tell you that bradbury was right on this one. college has done nothing but hurt me as a writer, do damage to my ego, and make me question what im doing there at all. my level of production and confidence is shit now, and i only have college to blame.

Sounds like you had a bad time at college. Shame. I had a great time, and then I had a great time again, and I recommend it to anyone who's not at the level of Faulknerian greatness that lets a man say "as someone who knows how to write" without a trace of irony.

If college has hurt you as a writer, well, that's that. It doesn't say much about college education in general. It says a lot about a weird kind of victim mentality that seems to permeate so many people disillusioned with the university system.

Fylh's picture
Fylh from from from is reading is from is reading is reading is reading reading is reading October 9, 2011 - 1:01pm

But is it worth 50k a year? And can you learn it anywhere else? This is obviously an american point of view, but given the current state of the economy, I don't think college is a worthwhile investment for people who aren't pursuing something math or science based.

I don't know — is it worth 50k a year? That depends. Can you learn it anywhere else? Sure. Will you? Maybe not. Oh, if only I had the time, I guess.

The simplest point I can make is that a university education is not a magic pill that you can take and become good at something. And some people aren't cut out for the university world. So what? It really is pretty simple, at bottom: If you want to be exposed to new things daily, go to college. Even if you hate it. If you can't afford it, don't go to college, and keep writing.

missesdash's picture
missesdash from Paris is reading The Informers October 9, 2011 - 2:09pm

My point is that you don't need to go to college to be exposed to new things daily. As far as writing is concerned, there's nothing college offers that you can't find elsewhere.

I went to NYU and studied journalism. But I think the move to the city and all of the networking I was able to do was infinitely more valuable than anything I learned in class. And no, I didn't learn anything worth the money my scholarships paid.

Some people do need a bit more guidance, but that's more about independent initiative and motivation than it is level of talent. So if you're the type who wouldn't be motivated to write and seek out information without paying thousands of dollars, then sure, go. But people who can't afford it should know that there are plenty of alternatives that all lead down the same road.

pathetique's picture
pathetique from Seattle is reading Dead Stars October 9, 2011 - 2:23pm

Don't do undergraduate journalism. Look at your university's specific coursework for English degrees to figure out if that's what you want to do. Linguistics sounds awesome. Super personal decision, though, and there isn't just one good degree "for writers."

I did Creative Writing, and I feel I did grow a lot as a writer/person as a result -- but that major at my college had a STRONG literature bent to it, some vocational classes (like editing and publishing), and had the undertone of being a liberal arts/general studies degree with an emphasis on writing craft (e.g. I took classes like 16th/17th century political violence). Didn't hurt that I edited a lit mag through the college my junior year, too.

Totally up to you, and every college is different. Most important thing is you're using college to meet people, meet other writers, and figure out how to move forward after.

Fylh's picture
Fylh from from from is reading is from is reading is reading is reading reading is reading October 9, 2011 - 2:37pm

My point is that you don't need to go to college to be exposed to new things daily. As far as writing is concerned, there's nothing college offers that you can't find elsewhere.

Except, you know, being forced to read books carefully, books you would probably otherwise never have read; or learning to write essays without all sorts of amateurish bullshit thrown in just to sound clever; or having access to sophisticated libraries filled with critical works on the books that you love, so that you can see what smarter and/or older people have said about those books; or meeting people who have similar interests to yours in large numbers.

Fylh's picture
Fylh from from from is reading is from is reading is reading is reading reading is reading October 9, 2011 - 2:38pm

And, of course, if you choose to study journalism when you want to be a "serious" writer, that may in itself be a reason not to enjoy the university "experience." Talk about stunting creative growth.

Nick Wilczynski's picture
Nick Wilczynski from Greensboro, NC is reading A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin October 9, 2011 - 2:51pm

Is College worth 50k a year?

I really don't know, I for one have dropped out twice, and gradually they lured me on and on until I can't really resist graduating consider how little is left. Has the experience been worth what I've paid for it/will pay for it? I often have the notion after my classes that I could have learned twice as much in half the time on Wikipedia and often the information would be more accurate. I probably did learn more than I learned in my first two college experiences when I was playing halo.

But the personal draw for me has always been the Political Science department, if you know how to pick your classes properly (to avoid left-right diatribes, which are a huge waste of time) you can get a lot of knowledge from statistical analysis to legal proccess that has personal utility.

Of course you can get into the habit of writing in a technical way. I know that when I'm writing things that people read on forums or my personal correspondence it comes off that way. It isn't that I have bad relationships with these people or am really such a pompous ass, it is just how I write now. Thesis. Supporting Arguments. Some little summary to close. What else could you possibly want?

But when I am not writing informal missives I have a much greater control of my voice. I can use that technical style, and it is a popular vernacular so it can be understood, it can characterize things, it is a strange little pallette that is so thoroughly true to this day and age that it isn't something we should ignore. But I'm hardly limited to that, I never saw writing as something I would have to learn from another person, to write you read a lot, you figure out how plot constructs work, you figure out how paragraphs are made, you build your personal toolkit on your own. College can add some tools to it, but whether or not you develop a fully working set of skills is all on you and no outside force will ever take that burden away.

Sociology is an interesting department, the problem I have with it is that it is a social science like Political Science. The goal of these schools of thought is to more or less resolve human lives into numerical value. Sociology, of course, is a little more squeamish about it, they do elaborate interviews they really "get to know" the subject, but at the end of it all they just mark down that persons life as a talley somewhere in a ccollumn designating whether or not he met the requirements for this particular study and if so what symptoms were evidenced.

With Poli Sci, though, you have much more limited interaction with the subjects of your study, it is more straightforwards in it's ultimate assertion that, be that as it may, your life is just a number to me. But as opposed to Sociology Political Science has an active component, a capacity to understand the mechanisms by which the democratic proccess can be successfully made to work. (Sociology Survey: 90% of people in this village lack potable water. Well trained Poli Sci version: Find the resources and get wells built) Most Poli Sci majors won't learn these things, trust me I've met them. But if you know what you are looking for, the political science department is where you can find it.

I had a professor once who used to, on the first day of every class he taught, write the definition of political science on the board. According to him it was the "Study of how to get things done" and he did kind of engender me to the Policy Wonk / Activist angle of the field rather than the "Electoral Advisor" or "Get a Law Degree" wing.

missesdash's picture
missesdash from Paris is reading The Informers October 9, 2011 - 3:06pm

Except, you know, being forced to read books carefully, books you would probably otherwise never have read; or learning to write essays without all sorts of amateurish bullshit thrown in just to sound clever; or having access to sophisticated libraries filled with critical works on the books that you love, so that you can see what smarter and/or older people have said about those books; or meeting people who have similar interests to yours in large numbers.

Like I said: it just takes a little independent initiative. A quick google gives you access to reading lists for specific colleges and free courses they offer. A donation that's about 2% of annual tuition can get you full library access. Going to free events held by students is a great way to meet people with similar interests. Professors are teaching you things they learned in books. It is possible to cut out the middle man.

Just to clarify, I don't think there's anything wrong with getting a degree if one can afford it. I just think it's 1. A privilege and 2. Not something needed to work in a creative field.

Raelyn's picture
Raelyn from California is reading The Liars' Club October 9, 2011 - 4:42pm

So I'm definitely more conflicted now.  I've given thought to independent study, but I know that I'm more attentive in a classroom setting (as long as the teacher isn't an idiot).  I agree with Phil that actually taking classes puts you in a position that introduces you to books and techniques that you wouldn't otherwise learn about.  If anyone here, by crazy random happen stance, went to San Francisco State University I'd really appreciate hearing about experiences there.  I'm starting at community in January and plan to transfer to SFSU.  

Liana's picture
Liana from Romania and Texas is reading Naked Lunch October 9, 2011 - 5:00pm

College was free in Romania when I did my BA, and here in the States I had assistantships to go through grad school. But if you don't have such options, there are always loans, which you can pay for 10 years then you get debt forgiveness if you do it right.

About the value of being in a classroom setting - what Phil said. Good professors have more than book knowledge and I would never trade the experience of being in their class. Still, I'm not against the idea that you can read a lot on your own, but some things you just don't notice or realize when you're the only sounding board for what you read.

lynx_child's picture
lynx_child from Seattle is reading The Dresden Files series October 9, 2011 - 5:24pm

I...uh....I'm a computer science/math double major...

I actually started off as an English major, but I was miserable.  It made me not enjoy reading anymore - reading felt more like work and a chore than something I liked to do.

That probably doesn't say much for me as a writer, but it's the truth.

Shocktrooper's picture
Shocktrooper from Texas is reading Started Early, Took My Dog October 9, 2011 - 7:17pm

It's simple.  Choosing the right major will not make you as a writer.  Writers write.  Study what interests you and something that might help you pay the bills after college, because creative writing probably won't do that for you right after or maybe ever.  Some of the best literature has been produced by accountants, lawyers and engineers.  The scary truth is that you are either going to write or your not going to write.  It won't be affected by what you study.  Yes, you can do an English degree or a creative writing degree and then maybe you can get that MFA and write one of those novels that everyone else with an MFA thinks is "clever" but is really about nothing becuase it based on life experiences that do not extend beyond an English department.

Then again, I still think about going for that MFA sometimes... 

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words October 9, 2011 - 7:17pm

@lynx_child I get that - I had the same problem with film after I studied it (informally) for long enough. I could only watch a film through to the end of Act 1, because I was too busy breaking down protagonist-antagonist, inciting incident, first act break... completely changed the film watching experience.

English worked the other way around for me. It gave me a huge background (allusions abound), and taught me what to look for in a story (even if the professor didn't always).

Although I never learned to read poetry. It still escapes me. I like hearing it, but reading it has always been meaningless.

and I switched from biology to english - too much chemistry, physics, math, not enough good stories about moose.

lynx_child's picture
lynx_child from Seattle is reading The Dresden Files series October 9, 2011 - 7:48pm

@postpomo That makes me feel better.  Yeah, I suspect part of it had to do with the particular English program at my college.  Maybe we just didn't mesh well.  I've been toying with the idea of taking some evening courses in writing once I get a full time job, and then maybe I could write for video games.

Liana's picture
Liana from Romania and Texas is reading Naked Lunch October 9, 2011 - 7:57pm

Well the question of this thread was about what the best major for a writer would be. What someone who wants to write would get most out of for that purpose. This doesn't mean only those majors can do it or can read books and learn craftmanship from reading and from experience. In fact, I feel that being in college (plus grad) for so long and focusing on it stole some years of experience from me. So it's still up to you what you want to do.

.'s picture
. October 9, 2011 - 8:09pm

What job could someone get with a major in literature? 

Liana's picture
Liana from Romania and Texas is reading Naked Lunch October 9, 2011 - 8:16pm

Teaching is a big one. Working in the administration. Libraries. Editor. Columnist. Some people I know develop web pages, write for companies (ads, things like that). What else?

The job market, sadly, is not that great for lit majors, so keep that in mind.

pathetique's picture
pathetique from Seattle is reading Dead Stars October 9, 2011 - 8:47pm

If it helps, I was a Creative Writing major and I'm one of the few of my college friends who is directly using their major professionally -- sometimes directly (I have paid freelance gigs), sometimes indirectly (it helps a lot at my day job, and probably wouldn't have gotten as far without the major I had). But like I mentioned before, part of what made my major so valuable was the wealth of context around what was being taught and the critical discussions surrounding it, in addition to working on writing itself.

lynx_child's picture
lynx_child from Seattle is reading The Dresden Files series October 9, 2011 - 8:53pm

There's always journalism.  

I also imagine that depending on what genre you write, other majors would be good too if you didn't want to go the English lit route.  History, for example.  Double majoring might be good, too.  That would give you more experience/material/research for your novels and possibly open up other career doors for you.

Mark's picture
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Mark from Lexington, Kentucky is reading The Chronology of Water October 9, 2011 - 11:30pm

The inquiry driving this discussion is a valid one, of course:  "What's the best college major for writers?"  If you know you love to write and want to do it at a higher and higher level of competency, maybe be known for it, and maybe even earn your living that way, if possible--and likewise, you're poring over university course catalogs for the first time, starting down that long stretch of road--then it's a perfectly reasonable and smart question to ask.

For me, though, it's analagous to asking:  "What's the best vacation spot for outdoors enthusiasts?" or "What's the best medicine to take when you're sick?"  It just can't be answered with a universal prescription.

If you can afford a few years at the university and take your lumps regarding the expense, I would strongly suggest a classical area of concentration in the liberal arts.  Choose philosophy or English Literature over sociology, psychology, anthropology.  It's no good to remain ignorant of the history, perspectives, and methodologies of the special sciences, but you don't need to major in one of them.  

That said, choose something in the human sciences over a more narrowly focused business or technical degree.  If one of the -ologies compels you, it's conceivable to pay it heed without ruination.

Finally, if you're likely to choose a regional university where you'll have a few friends from high school to share the experience with and you can drive home to your folks every other weekend and do your laundry (as opposed to someone with the privilege to choose between Duke, Princeton, and Cornell) then it's doubly important to find out as much as you can about the departments for your likely majors of choice among your nearest homebase universities.  How good is the faculty?  What's the overall climate in each department?  Where's their emphasis?  Do the top tier instructors tend to have ivy league or eqivalent credentials?  Are they known for being kind and generous to students?  Do they like, respect and support each other?  Is the faculty in that department at war with the administration and if so, is it for a good reason?  Do they appear at fine arts showcases and open mic events in support of their students?  Will your typical survey class have nineteen students and a Ph.D. instructor--or will it be a fifty-five student auditorium with a master's candidate instructor who knows you by a number and doesn't seem to keep office hours?  

If possible, ask some graduate students which full professors they like best and why.  

It's fine to enter one of these institutions undeclared and sample what you like for two years before choosing a major.  You really might want to choose the major on the basis of the instructors you like best and the overall strength of the department wherever you land.  The faculty and the program rank above whether your BA will say philosophy or English or something else.  I majored in philosophy with a creative writing minor and that combination morphed into something closer to a philosophy-English double major.  A huge gamut of studies that included classes in linguistics and all that.  None of which prevented me from getting reasonably well-educated in the social sciences or from studying acting and voice.  

And I did most of that at a small regional university where I really got to know the faculty.  I wouldn't change it.

fport's picture
fport from Canada is reading The World Until Yesterday - Jared Diamond November 4, 2012 - 11:02am

One question, you've been here over a year, has your dilema been resolved or at least mitigated somewhat by the mere fact of membership?

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal December 20, 2016 - 9:35am

#skynet

Mike Roberts's picture
Mike Roberts from Kingston, Ontario is reading Chuck Wendig books and "Joyland" February 12, 2017 - 9:20am

To be honest, the major that lets you get a decent job to support you while you write...