Don’t Study English

To be clear, my degree is in English: Writing, so obviously I didn’t take my own advice. While I have enjoyed many of my classes, and it has already gotten me a job lined up as an English teacher with Teach For America, I do wonder if focusing on something else would have given me more material for my writing. Despite this, I have loved being able to complete schoolwork that didn’t feel like work at all. In my experience, the best things about my undergrad have been:

  • Exposure to stories I never would have read. (Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, it is one of the only books that actually made me want to physical fight a character.)
  • Networking with other writers.
  • Forcing myself to practice in many different genres. This actually led to my first story getting published. I normally write fantasy, but my creative nonfiction short story, “Eevee,” was originally a school project and later got accepted by the magazine The Bird & Dog. 
  • Allowing me to use my passion to earn a degree.

While I think these are all good reason to pursue a degree in English, I received little actual instruction in regards to how to craft a story. In fact, the podcast Writing Excuses taught me a thousand concepts that my professor never even touched on. Writing Excuses is hosted by Brandon Sanderson (my favorite author), Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler (Who is one of the nicest guys I’ve met). The best part of the podcast is that it is free. You can learn more from that free resource than some colleges offer.

If you choose to major in something other than English, then it can give you a basis for your writing. Which sound more interesting, a science-fiction book written by a writer or a science-fiction book written by a physicist? The physicist might not have as much experience with the craft of writing, but it is likely that they will understand interesting concepts that a writer would not have knowledge of.

Any writing course will teach you that the best way to improve, is to practice. This doesn’t require assignments or finals. It only requires enough self-discipline to sit in a chair and put fingers to the keyboard. This can be done while studying anything or working anywhere. Do not let the fear of not having the right degree stop you from telling your story.

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4 thoughts on “Don’t Study English

  1. Hey Steven! I completely agree that people shouldn’t fear writing stories just because they don’t have an English degree. However, I think you may be understating the importance of writing out of your comfort zone and exposure/collaboration with other writers that an English program provides.

    In particular, I find the experience of a writing workshop to be an invaluable experience to any writer. It’s a perfect environment for not only exploring and consolidating your identity as a writer, but also learning to properly take (and reject) the inevitable litany of feedback.

    As for your experience of not receiving much instruction on craft elements, I can relate and I think that varies from professor to professor. I personally found having a rapport with a professor or other student whose writing you find valuable usually elicits the best discussions of craft elements. Some of the most helpful instruction and advice I’ve received has been from casual/private conversations rather than in a formal class setting – and these conversations were contingent upon my being acquainted with these people and their writing through taking English courses.

    Anyways, that’s my quick defense of studying English, which has been fueled by 0 hours of sleep. I’m digging your website, and I always loved reading over your stories when you came down to the ole WC. Stay well and keep writing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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