Why Aspiring Authors Shouldn’t Major in English

29 October 2012 by 46 Comments

Do you want to be a writer when you grow up?  I know I do.  When I was in high school trying to decide on a college and a major, English seemed like the perfect subject to study.  After all, English is the language I would be writing in, right?  Looking back, I think I made a huge mistake.

Perks of Being an English Major

This is exactly how my life went . . . oh, wait . . .

The major problem with majoring in English was that, although I gained some marketable skills from it, it did very little to prepare me for being a writer.  Here are some of the reasons why I don’t think it’s a good idea for writers to major in English:

  • You already know English.  If you can read this, chances are you already have native or near-native proficiency in English.  Why would you spend tens of thousands of dollars on a program where you’re just going to learn more about a language you already know?  Most programs don’t even spend much time on grammar or linguistics, so you’re not really gaining any arcane English knowledge that you couldn’t have picked up while you were in high school.
  • Writing classes are required for every major.  For most four-year degrees, regardless of what you major in, you will be required to take a course in English composition.  My upper-level English composition class had students from every major in it.  Even at the most basic level of English 101, you will learn how to write an essay and you will learn correct grammar.  Best of all, one of your required textbooks will be a grammar reference.  Make sure you hold onto it; I still have mine.
  • You’re just going to read a lot of literature.  If you want to be a writer, but you don’t already read as much as you possibly can, I want you to hit yourself.  No, really.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait . . . Okay, as I was saying, if you want to be a writer, you probably already read all the time.  Something has to inspire your desire to create worlds, right?  The things you read will have a major impact on your writing style and the kinds of stories you will create.  For me, I enjoyed reading great English literature from a variety of time periods, but as a writer, I find that those were not the kinds of stories that inspired me.  I drew most of my inspiration from my leisure reading of speculative fiction–not from reading the classics.

    How to Read a Book

    Fortunately, there’s a whole book on the subject.

  • Studying other subjects gives you a different perspective to write from.  I really enjoy reading a book with realistic details about careers, hobbies, and interests outside of my own scope.  It provides a kind of escape from my own mundane life.  I don’t know much about business, law, or science, but I think books that revolve around these topics are fascinating.  Michael Crichton is a good example of a writer whose expertise in scientific fields translated into fascinating science fiction stories involving everything from biotech to mutant gorillas.  All I’m saying is you don’t want to be the kid who writes about writers writing.  Only Stephen King can get away with that; he breaks all the rules.
  • English programs don’t teach job skills or business sense.  Let’s be honest: most writers are going to need a second job while they’re writing that bestseller.  On a resume, you look about as smart as the French exchange student who got good grades in French.  What’s more, in order to succeed as a writer, you’ll need to know how to be an effective communicator and an effective promoter.  You would think that writing letters or e-mails and writing fiction go hand-in-hand, but they don’t.

I don’t necessarily want to discourage aspiring writers from majoring in English.  Plenty of successful writers have been English majors.  However, it’s important to realize that an English degree will leave gaps in your education and skill set.  If I had to do it over, I would have picked a journalism or business major instead, and I would have also joined up with the school newspaper and a few other clubs that interested me.  Get out and try some things that are outside of your comfort zone, because fiction writing is about characters overcoming conflict, and you won’t know about conflict until you’ve faced a challenge.

Maybe you’re planning to major in English anyway, or maybe you’ve already got an English degree.  What was your experience with an education in English?  Leave a comment!

Tony

Divorcé, proud father of four, blogger, black coffee drinker, ukulele enthusiast, and Tech Sergeant in the United States Air Force

46 thoughts on “Why Aspiring Authors Shouldn’t Major in English

  1. This makes me feel better about my decision not to major in English even though I do intend to become a writer. I decided that I’m writing now and I’ll be writing forever so I might as well explore something else I love almost as much. So I’m heading for psychology which will give me excellent insight into the human mind which is great for writing anyway.

  2. I’m an editor, not an author, but I think studying mass communications did a much better job of preparing me for this than my English studies did (I was a double major). This is a very good point and some great perspective!

  3. Or, to look at this from a different perspective, people in all careers that have majored in English are more successful than those that have not. This is not an opinion, several studies have shown this to be an actual fact. Especially in business careers. When looking at people in those fields, English majors are consistently more successful than people who studied other fields. “They” believe there are two reasons for this:
    1. People who read are also more successful, and people majoring in English tend to be readers and people who learn how to read “better.” Yes, that is a real thing.
    2. English majors tend to be better at writing. Okay, not tend to be; English majors have learned to write, and being able to write well is the one skill that you will need no matter what field you are in, unless it’s the burger flipping field in which case reading and writing skills tend to be somewhat unnecessary since it tends to be picture book oriented.

    From that standpoint, I’d say that, in general, English is the best thing anyone can major in. Including those that want to be writers because, face it, how many people, in their own, are actually gonna take the time to look at classic literature?

    • I think both of you make good points. Learning to communicate well and read well benefits everyone, which is one of the major advantages of attending a liberal arts school, where you’re required to take a number of English courses no matter what you major in. I don’t think Tony was necessarily arguing that we don’t need these skills, just that going with a full-on major isn’t necessary and might leave gaps in your skill set that you don’t realize.

      • Well, I’m all for the maximum education possible, but, then, you don’t actually need school if you are motivated to educate yourself.
        My point, really, is that, for most people, English is where they are lacking in education. Most people have no ability to write, so, if you want to be a writer, going through a series of courses that force you to practice that skill is a good thing. And if you don’t become a writer, you will do better with the training than you will do from having majored in something else, like sociology or business or whatever. English is the only thing that you can carry with you everywhere, and it’s certainly not going to hurt you as a potential writer. A business degree, however, is not going to help you on the writing end of writing.

        • It might help you on the business end of writing, though. ^_^ A business degree might not be as preferable as, say, a journalism or communications degree, if we’re talking alternate degrees in English.

          I wasn’t so much talking about self-education–I was a biology major when I started school, but I was still required to take loads of English and literature classes. They weren’t bunny classes, and they taught me a lot about writing and reading.

          I’m also curious why you think writers wouldn’t seek out literature/reading on their own time. I mean, someone majoring in engineering might not be much on reading fiction (or they might love it, not to say that engineers don’t read for pleasure), but I’ve never heard of a (good) writer who hasn’t been a voracious reader, both in and out of the classroom.

          • The prevailing wisdom about reading, and I don’t often agree with prevailing wisdom, is that you should read only in your genre. That’s the mantra that you run into everywhere about writing: “read you genre.” I think this is a bad and limiting idea. However, the English degree exposes you to a lot of literature that you will most likely never run into on your own even if you do read widely but especially if you listen to what people say you should do.
            At this point, though, if you’re only going to get a BA, it doesn’t much matter to your career what you get, because a BA is not enough to take you anywhere other than teaching. If the BA is not going to matter, English is your best bet to get ahead in whatever field you want to pursue.
            If you’re going on to post-graduate education, then you should be studying within the field you want to pursue.

            Some of that is my own opinion, but all of it is based on the fact that studies show that people with an English degree meet with more success than others.

          • Hm. I have never heard that the prevailing wisdom is to read your genre *only*. I mean, yes, read your genre to do your homework, but I’ve never heard wide reading discouraged.

            • I see it all the time, and it kind of drives me crazy. The notion is that you should immerse yourself in your genre so that you -really- know how to write it. Reading other genres will just confuse you and muddy your writing.
              My notion is that you should read the best examples of writing you can so that you pick up on what good writing really is.

              • The exclusion of all other reading is definitely bad advice–in fact, it’s hack advice. No writer worth their salt is going to do that.

                • Unfortunately, a lot of people run from bad advice to bad advice because people post it all over their blogs as “the way” to get ahead in writing. If you put it in a list and post it, people think it’s Truth and do it. Like “don’t use adverbs” or whatever the new thing is people think they need to do to get published.

                  Probably, the real problem lies in that people focus on the “getting published” part rather than the just writing the best that they can.

          • Yeah.. we have to remember though, too, that writing as a “career” has taken off exponentially since ebooks became easy to publish. Most of the crappy writing advice blogs are geared toward people who will probably always be semi-professional hobbyists at best. For people who feel the deep, intrinsic need to write, those kinds of advice posts are worthless because the writers are already reading everything they can get their hands on and already getting into their own writing rhythms; they’ve never had to be pushed into it.

            ETA: Not that writing is not a career for some, just that, there are a lot more people with writing “careers” than actual writing careers. I don’t want to sound snobbish on this point, but it’s just true.

          • I’ve never heard the “Only read your genre” advice. Personally, I think some very interesting stories come from meshing genres, and the best stories transcend their genre.

    • Looking back, the main thing that college did for me was give me a broader view of life. It wouldn’t have mattered what I majored in for that, because most of the classes that helped with that were my general education electives rather than my major courses. As I said, knowing what I know now, I would have chosen a different major.

      That being said, I read a lot, and not just fiction. Plenty of subjects interst me, and being able to learn by reading is a valuable skill. Most of the more important lessons are self-taught (or learned by bullsh*tting with wise old men who drink too much).

      I think there are some good points for either side of this argument, and everyone’s experience is different; this was based on mine.

  4. If I had the chance to do my undergraduate degree again, I’d still get a B.A. in English. But then, I love this field so much I’m going back to get a Ph.D. in English literature even though I know it will actually *decrease* my marketability in most fields. (I already have a J.D.)

    That said, if you want to write *for a living* – by which I mean “copywriting, interviews, etc.” but not “literature, drama, and/or poetry” – you’re going to need at least one of two skill sets: (a) substantive subject matter knowledge and/or (b) the ability to interview people to get at their substantive subject matter knowledge. These are things you can get with the English B.A., but you’re more likely to pick them up in your non-major-related courses and/or through out-of-class experiences, like internships. I learned both these skills during law school, but I don’t recommend that route unless you really, really like law.

    My advice: If you really love literature, get the B.A. Just supplement either with a substantive minor and/or with a few journalism classes.

    (My mentor’s advice: if you want to be a writer of literature/drama/poetry, it’s the MFA that’s the waste of your time. If you’re going to write, do it; if not, spend your time on some other graduate degree.)

    • Since you did the English thing: are there jobs out there for English majors who don’t go on to get graduate degrees? I mean, are there enough jobs? I’ve often thought about going back for an English degree, now that I have my head out of my ass and I know I don’t need to be a doctor because my family wanted me to . . . but, I’m also practical by nature, so I didn’t want to go all-out getting a degree only to end up doing some unrelated job.

      • I think the days of career-specific majors are gone in many industries. Many companies just want you to have A degree. English is a very versatile degree, and in recent years I see lots of articles about businesses bemoaning the writing skills of their employees. My uni has done some experiment work combining business degrees with intense writing programs to try to bridge that gap. That’s where I disagree with Tony – any major will leave you with gaps unless you specifically organize your studies to pick up a bit of everything – and there’s evidence that that isn’t always that successful.

        Being well rounded is great, but I don’t necessarily think having any one alternative degree is better for writers. I’d also argue that the theory and study of craft is something that through reading, you may pick up but not necessarily study. I think there’s value in that.

        • I do wish that writing skills were something that universities–and high schools, for that matter-taught more in-depth, along with a good logic class. Knowing how to communicate effectively is important no matter what you do.

  5. Yes to all of this. Especially the cartoon, which is TOTALLY the life I am living. I’m actually commenting FROM the White House, where Obama and I are pontificating on Shakespeare AS WE SPEAK.

    Ahem.

    I loved my English degree. I had a very good time GETTING my English degree. That being said, I didn’t leave having learned much I couldn’t have learned on my own. But when you’re 18, you don’t have the best decision-making skills. I was so impressed with my friends who were like, “I’m gonna be a DOCTOR or a LAWYER or an ELECTRICAL ENGINEER when I grow up!” because I was more like, “Umm…uh huh…I’m going to drink this cocktail, then I’m going to hang out with this attractive guy, then I’m going to sleep til 2pm. I’ll make that decision tomorrow. Or next year. Or when I’m 30.”

    Still haven’t made that decision, by the way. No idea what I want to be when I grow up. Still want to write, though. And do. Just didn’t need a piece of paper telling me I could do it that I will be paying for FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE, thanks, student loans!

    • Yes! I had the very same experience as you. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life (who does at 18?) and in college I basically took Intro to Everything until I was forced to finally pick a major. I picked Political Science with a side of Russian Language and Literature. English would have been the obvious choice as I am super obsessed with books, but I had taken English in high school and college had so many awesome new things I hadn’t been exposed to. Sometimes I wish I had picked English, but this blog post and discussion make me feel better about my choices :) Btw, I ended up becoming a librarian, so as with most jobs my undergraduate degree doesn’t matter anyhow.

  6. Halfway through my Engineering degree, I considered switching to English. I’m really glad I did not, for two reasons: First, when you’re 18 it’s kind of a big deal to make a difficult, four-year commitment and stick it out to the end. I’m very proud I did that. Second, an EE degree from Berkeley is pretty marketable, whereas an English degree… well.

    Engineering is very good at teaching objective analysis, data analysis, structured thinking, problem solving, diagramming, and many other creative skills that are focused on structure, observation, and construction. Being a writer is only partly about language. It’s also largely about observation and creativity. Engineering is an intensely creative field (shh, that’s a secret they don’t like to tell people) where clear, unambiguous communication is critical for success. Engineers study previous designs in order to innovate new ideas.

    While I might recommend sciences, engineering, even math to those who wish to become writers, ultimately I don’t think your major matters that much. It’s sort of like that chef in Ratatouille who said, “Anyone can cook.” Anyone can write. Not to imply that everyone can become a great writer. Instead, great writers can come from any background. The truth is that in college, you basically learn to become a grownup. It’s the learning you do after college that really matters. (IMHO)

    • I can’t disagree that engineers can be amazing writers. Eduardo Halfon is/was an engineer, and he can Write. I capitalized Write very much on purpose.

  7. I started out planning to major in philosophy and studio art. Then I dropped out of school and kind of lived like a bum in D.C. for a while while I reevaluated.

    When I went back to school, I applied to and got into the film program. Not because it was marketable. Not even because I was trying to gain specific skills. I just wasn’t really enjoying classes anymore, and I figured that doing something fun would be my best bet for actually getting a degree.

    I ended up adding the English degree because it would give me the credentials for a more realistic and stable job comparable to my film degree. I thought pretty seriously about doing Teach for America, and of being a high school English teacher, which an undergraduate degree would be just fine for. I like literature; I like reading it; I like teaching it.

    I don’t regret either degree, though I sure wish I could have opted out of some of the requirements I just thought were lame. I’m not sure I would change anything if I could go back in time. But one thing I agree with Tony about: you’d be a dummy to plan to be self-employed (writer) and not take some business/personal finance/entrepreneurship classes. It seems like so many creative types crash and burn not because they don’t have what it takes, but because they weren’t realistic about what it takes.

    For instance, there are ways to live in relative comfort on $10,000 per year as a single person. And there are many more ways in which that will seem like complete squalor. If you can manage the first way, “making it” as a writer won’t feel nearly so daunting.

    Being able to (1) really carefully manage your resources and (2) realistically project your needs for the future, and to (3) measure your own ability/product against the market you want to enter should definitely be part of any creative person’s skill set.

    • (btw, sorry your comments keep getting moderated. It’s not just you. Ever since I put that jerk yesterday in moderation, it’s catching some other people.)

    • The big thing that many failed writers haven’t considered is that publishing is an industry, and you have to understand it in order to succeed. I think this is the main thing that was lacking in my education; I was heavy on the liberal arts and low on the important skills like networking, phone etiquette, querying, and marketing.

  8. In addition to my reply somewhere up there, as a college English teacher, I’d say that the level of writing I see from students in these courses is…how do I put this nicely? Not up to par. Now, specifically in Texas, this is for a number of reasons but mainly because the type of writing required to pass standardized tests in public school is very specific and limited. So I’d say that the one or two college writing classes required for most degrees is not necessarily enough to make you a good writer.

    But I guess that’s where the bulk of my issue comes from with regard to your argument. If you read a lot… If you take note of the craft/style… If you don’t have gaps within these other fields… You’re essentially saying that the type of degree doesn’t matter at all, but your argument says that aspiring writers “shouldn’t” major in English. This, I disagree with. Major in English or film or architecture or nursing – doesn’t matter to me. But that “shouldn’t” stands out as prohibitive. For those who think an English degree is ONLY reading, I’m not sure where your degree originated. Mine was about theory and intersectionality and history and film and gender/race studies. And, of course, writing. These skills aren’t necessarily valued – as a freelance editor, I see it all the time. People think the work is “easy” and either don’t want to pony up for the services or have unclear ideas (beforehand) of how long the process should take.

    My point is, that what makes a writer is something elusive. You *can* be an English major or electrical engineering major or pre-law major and be a good writer. I don’t think a college degree and, as you say, English degree is a hindrance. I do think experiences and observations along with craft and critical thinking are crucial. But isn’t college designed to nurture these skills? Students may or may not leave with them, but I do think good courses are designed to elicit them.

    I’ve seen bad writing from all sorts of college majors and from those without college degrees. I’ve also seen good, no, great writing from writers with varied degrees/educational experience. Having an English degree is, by no means, proscriptive of good writing.

    • I think it would be good if more universities had a creative writing program that taught both sides–not just reading and writing, but also the business aspect of being a writer as a job, how to get out there and make professional connections, how to find actual work writing, the business end of being published (yes, you do need an editor, Mr or Ms Writerperson!), etc. Majoring in English is an awesome education in how literature works and how writing works; coupled with practical professional advice, and those writers would be unstoppable!

      • The creative writing courses I took did. We had research projects to research publications, form cover letters, etc. That’s the responsible side of teaching creative writing. And more and more arts programs/writing programs are including the practical side of it. I think they didn’t always, but it is more of a consideration now.

        • I actually noticed a huge difference in going to university at 18 and going back at 28 between what they taught as far as “getting along in the real world.” Of course, a lot of it depends on your professors.. some instructors I had did a great job at real world extensions, and some did a horrible job due to being pressured to add real-world applications but not being able to implement that effectively.

  9. Hmm. While I do see your points, I don’t agree that an English major will limit aspiring writers, or that reading literature for class is a waste of time. Sure, I might read classic literature anyway, but the courses taught me so many perspectives on and ways of reading fiction, poetry, drama, etc. that I wouldn’t have just figured out on my own. And just because I majored in English doesn’t mean I wasn’t adequately exposed to other subjects — a liberal arts education, at least in theory, is all about developing a well-rounded education regardless of one’s specific area of study.

    Honestly, I think it’s unnecessary to put so much focus on “what did you major in?” A major isn’t something that binds or labels you for life — it doesn’t determine what careers you’ll get. People change careers, sometimes after years.

    Ultimately, I’m of the perhaps-naive opinion that a person can do whatever he/she wants in life, regardless of what he/she studied in school. If your B.A. is in chemistry, but years later you develop a passion for international politics, you’ll do whatever it takes to become successful in that field. If you’re an aspiring writer with a B.A. in English, and you want to write a historical-scientific novel, you’ll research the time period and technical info on your own. That’s what writers do, regardless of what they studied in college.

  10. I agree with you on some of the areas that are lacking, specifically the missing business aspects of the writing profession. A couple of others have suggested this is more in creative writing/journalism majors, so maybe a better course mix would improve that. But I’m wondering what aspects you think are the positives to majoring in English. We all do know English, but how many of us outside English classes examine the language, how it’s evolved, and how it’s manipulated? Learning about our language as abstract, changeable, individualized, and imperfect is a perspective I’ve found almost exclusively within my “English” friends. Where else do we learn to critically read a text, examine its history and culture, the authors and their societies? I think it’s unfair to expect people, on their own, to be able to really read a book in the way that us English majors are taught. Having that layered understanding of texts and language only enhances one’s writing. Not to mention the conversations that arise in class between students and professors about the material. I think there’s quite a bit of value in an English degree for a writer.

    That said, I would suggest to all writers – get some life experience. Go to school out of state. Date people. Move around, have a kid, go to dinner alone and talk to people you don’t know. Watch people. That has to be the best advice I’ve heard for writers, and that could happen at school (or not).

    I do wish students (of any major) would be more encouraged to take classes outside the major. People can do this, but most won’t because of cost, time, and the credit going nowhere. That’s a fault of our social view of college, though, not English programs specifically. That view of education is antiquated, but I wish it would come back.

    Nice thought-provoking post, Tony!

  11. When I was 17 or 18, I had no clear idea of what I wanted to do, other than “make things”, so I went to art college. I look back on it now and think maybe it would have been more useful to do a degree in English, or at least, more logical, but, putting aside the issues I have with art college now, my illustration degree exposed me to all sorts of interesting and unusual influences that I probably would have missed on an English degree, and those have informed my writing now.

    In the end I think all writers have different paths, whether it’s the straight and narrow or the confused and meandering. The important thing is to realise you *are* a writer.

    • “In the end I think all writers have different paths, whether it’s the straight and narrow or the confused and meandering. The important thing is to realise you *are* a writer.”

      Very nicely put; I really like this. Owning that creative persona is probably the hardest part.

  12. I really enjoyed reading this, including the comments, and I think everyone here has a point in common: Don’t focus on only one thing throughout your education/professional years. That will make you one-dimensional. Broaden your study; broaden your experience; broaden your life.

    Have you read this advice for writers by Jennifer Weiner?
    http://www.jenniferweiner.com/forwriters.htm

    Weiner was an English major at Princeton, then worked as a journalist before writing the first of many bestselling novels. She is very open about the fact that she writes with a literary background on topics that may seem less than literary (some have called her books “chick lit”) but which have at their heart good storytelling.

    A point she makes that I strongly agree with: “A liberal arts education, whether you’re studying history or anthropology or political science or English, teaches how to read, how to write, and how to reason… Once you’ve got the foundation of a liberal arts education – once you’ve slogged through the required reading, written the papers, attended the lectures and seminars – you know how to think. And in order to write, you have to be able to make sense of the landscape of the world. In order to be any kind of artistic innovator, you have to understand everything that came before you.”

    Tony, I think I might disagree with you on the fact that an English major just rehashes things you already know: how to write in the English language and how to read books. True, any literate high school graduate should be able to do those things. But to develop critical thinking, to practice and hone the art of writing exquisitely well, requires not just doing it on your own, but doing it intensely, repeatedly, and with the guidance of those who are more talented and more experienced. It’s how we get better.

    The comic strip up there made me giggle… (“This is the President! I need you at the White House to analyze this Shakespeare play!”) True, you may not use the same *tools* in your real life career that you used in English class (plays, poems, novels); but I’d argue that you use the same *skills* — the ability to pluck out commonalities and themes and the ability to tell compellingly the story of a product, a company, a system, etc. with clarity and correct pitch.

    Increasingly, companies actually *are* looking for people with those skills. Did you see the “Bonfire of the Humanities” opinion article in the WSJ the other day? You might like it. Written by career technology journalist, Michael Malone. Here it is: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444799904578048230286503390.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

    Malone argues that even if your goal in life is to be a titan of technology, you need English major skills to produce that amazing thing everyone will want. “You must spend a year searching for that one undeveloped niche that you can capture. And you must also use that time to find angel or venture investment, establish strategic partners, convince talented people to take the risk and join your firm, explain your product to code writers and designers, and most of all, begin to market to prospective major customers. And you have to do all of that without an actual product. And how do you do that? … You tell stories.”

    But back to becoming a writer. I’m a writer, and I’m glad I majored in English. Here’s how my path went: I was an English major at a liberal arts college and took a heavy dose of other humanities coursework outside my major (history, psychology, economics, biology, etc.). I decided not to go to law school or English grad school, so I applied for a job with an IT consulting firm that was interviewing on campus. The interviewer asked: “Why are you interviewing for this job if you’re an English major? And why should we hire you?” I explained that, first off, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to immerse myself in the subject I love more than anything else. After all, you only get to do college once. And, I said, I’ve got skills that translate to almost any job. You need someone who can understand how the building blocks of different software and business processes fit together to meet a company’s mission and make it run better? I’ve spent the past four years practicing with building blocks: I can fit together pieces of language to create tragedy, comedy, narrative, analysis, etc. I understand the idea of parts that make a whole.

    The business experience I got there helped me get my first major writing job when I decided to leave that industry and follow my gut to a job that let me write every day. A company hired me to run the editorial division of their marketing department. They wanted someone who was comfortable in a corporate environment, who understood how good communication impacts business success, and who could apply artistry to any topic and make it compelling.

    From there, I went on to start my freelance writing and editing career, and that’s where I am, happily and very busily, now. And yes, I’ve even been hired by a former US President.

    (But not to analyze Shakespeare.)

    • I’m glad the English degree worked for you. Unfortunately, that’s not how it went for me. You can see more of my story here. If I had it to do again, I would have studied something different. I didn’t feel that way at the time. Even if I had studied English, the way I did high school and college and everything else in my life was not conducive to having a career. I didn’t learn any of those skills until I got into the air force.

      My teachers and parents all led me to believe that as long as I had a college degree, I would get a job. They skipped over the interviewing, networking, and resume building skills–basic self-marketing–that a person needs to find a job. These skills also apply to getting published or being otherwise self-employed. Some college programs provide this kind of training, and the military provides this, but my English program did not.

      • So true — a college degree can’t be the end-all, be-all. Takes a lot of practical experience to gain important skills (not to mention fodder to write about). Like you say below, “pay attention to life” — love that!

  13. I thought I was going to major in English too! But I had an epiphany during my first year modern-lit exam that I wasn’t really enjoying all the literature analysis. In fact, it started to feel repetitive – different book, same old analysis.

    I ended up majoring in Criminology and Political Science which offered me a whole new perspective and possibly even more opportunities to write. I went on to do a post grad in corporate communication which taught me to write for the masses. We live in a society that is more likely to pay you to write 140 characters than to pen a 600 page novel.

    If you’re going into the arts or humanities, it doesn’t matter what you major in. It’s what you make of your experience and how you decide to use your skills.

  14. I agree with most of the people who disagree with me on this. It’s really about finding a balance. I honestly have no bias against English majors, but my own experience with it was not good. That was partially due to external factors, but my main goal here was to provide some food for thought.

    If you are going to major in English, make sure you balance it out by reading up on the publishing industry and making the right contacts. Also, pay attention to life and do something interesting with yourself so you have something to write about.

  15. Pingback: Why Aspiring Authors Shouldn’t Major in English « Your Friend Tony

  16. Pingback: Clock Rewinders on a Book Binge (38) | bookgoonie

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